Marina buoyed by first America’s Cup event

Spectators lined the Marina Yacht Harbor jetty for great views of A.C. World Series match and fleet races Photo: Gilles Martin-Raget, ACEA

After nearly a year of high expectations and community concern, the America’s Cup World Series (ACWS) – the mini version of the 2013 America’s Cup – sailed into the Marina on Tuesday, Aug. 21. With next year’s regatta heavily hyped as bringing jobs and revenue to the City, the big question was how would the smaller ACWS fare? Would anyone actually turn out to watch competitive sailing on the bay?

At the conclusion of a day of practice and five days of racing, the results are in: People turned out to watch the regatta in droves. More than 150,000 spectators showed up during the week, with the crowd on “Super Sunday” – counted via aerial photographs and head counts – at 40,000. Ticketed seating at the ACWS Village on the Marina Green sold out with a daily capacity of 6,600, and another 1,600 hospitality guests were registered for the event. Even the free concert at the Village – on a cold and blustery evening – drew a crowd of 5,000 people. And of course, both the Golden Gate Yacht Club, home of the America’s Cup, and St. Francis Yacht Club were bursting at the seams with members and guests throughout
the week.But did all these spectators result in a bump for local business revenue?

According to Ferris Ferndon, owner of We Olive on Chestnut Street and president of the Marina Merchants Association, the answer was a resounding yes. “There was a lot more foot traffic on Chestnut, with a noticeable increase in visitors from abroad. I also had a lot of local customers coming into the store and talking excitedly about the event. The excitement seemed to build through the weekend with everyone somewhat surprised but very enthused up and down the street.”

Nate Valentine, a partner in Vintage 415 – owners of Mamacita, Tipsy Pig, Blue Barn Gourmet, and Umame – said he definitely saw a spike in business. “I don’t think anyone really knew what to expect, but as more people started watching and found out how awesome the sailing was, and what a great place the Marina was to be a part of this event, you could feel the excitement grow. We’re really looking forward to it returning in October and
next year.”

Raine Duafeldt, the manager at Rabat on Chestnut Street, said that though she didn’t see much difference during the week when the crowds were smaller, she saw a tremendous jump in business over the weekend. Raine was also excited to learn that Camper, a shoe line carried by Rabat, was a sponsor of Emirates Team New Zealand.

Paul Owens, owner of Reed & Greenough on Scott Street, said, “This event brought exactly the right kind of crowd to the Marina. I’m personally writing a letter to Larry Ellison to thank him for choosing to have the America’s Cup here in San Francisco, and look forward to the upcoming events. I am in full support of the America’s Cup!”

One of the nicest surprises for businesses and residents alike was the relatively light automobile traffic during the week. Perhaps because of the warnings from City agencies and the America’s Cup Event Authority that streets could be closed to traffic and parking would be limited, many people took the recommended public transit. Throngs could also be seen walking from hotels throughout the Marina and Cow Hollow.

The neighborhood certainly became a home away from home for many of the sailing teams. Olympic gold medalists Ben Ainsley (helmsman of JP Morgan/BAR for Britain) and Nathan Outteridge (Australian helmsman for Team Korea) were both spotted on Chestnut Street; Team Oracle was at Balboa Café and Reed & Greenough; both China Team and Artemis Racing were spotted at Tipsy Pig; Tom Ehman of Oracle Racing is a huge fan of Parma and Izzy’s on Steiner; and China Team members were also spotted at The Bus Stop on Union Street.

While all were gracious in signing autographs or posing for photos, most went unnoticed by the general public, as sailors simply aren’t household names or faces … yet. But the new America’s Cup format is setting out to change that with exciting wire-to-wire racing and the incredible amphitheater of the bay, where thousands of spectators can enjoy the
show for free.

Even Muni got gold stars for running extra buses to shuttle the crowds and for staffing buses and stops with docents to help direct travelers to services and destinations. As District 2 Supervisor Mark Farrell said, “This is an opportunity to see what’s working and what’s not working as we get ready to host a much bigger event next year.”

By all indications, the first event was a success, not just for Oracle Racing, the competing teams, and the event authority, but also for the Marina. And with the races and San Francisco Bay on display in the live online coverage, plus live television coverage on Sunday, it’s certain the crowds will only swell at future events.

This October will be the real test, when the America’s Cup World Series will run concurrent with Fleet Week, and we could see crowds similar to those expected in 2013. Stay tuned!

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