The America's Cup will be on network TV for the first time in two decades when NBC broadcasts the first two races of sailing's marquee regatta on San Francisco Bay in September 2013.
Officials said that the deal with the NBC Sports Group also includes three broadcasts on NBC this year from the America's Cup World Series. The remaining races in the America's Cup match will be on cable on NBC Sports Network.
The deal is big for regatta organizers who hope to showcase the modernized America's Cup to mainstream fans. Racing will be on a short course close to shore rather than miles out to sea, and in fast, wing-sailed catamarans rather than plodding sloops.
With the exception of ABC showing Race 1 of the 1992 America's Cup in San Diego, every other race shown live since the epic Race 7 in 1983 has been on cable.
"It's fantastic because it's obviously mainstream TV and a lot of people are going to see the racing as a result," said Russell Coutts, who sailed undefeated through three straight America's Cup matches as a skipper for two different countries, and added a fourth title in 2010 as CEO of Oracle Racing. "Frankly, I think it's the best TV result for sailing, certainly in my experience with the America's Cup. This is going to be great for sailing and really, really good for the America's Cup."
The NBC Sports Group also acquired rights to the Louis Vuitton Cup in the summer of 2013 in San Francisco, which will determine which foreign syndicate meets Oracle Racing, owned by Silicon Valley maverick Larry Ellison, for the oldest trophy in international sports.
Meanwhile San Francisco and organizers of the cup are still working out details of surrounding the race.
Richard Worth, the chairman of the America's Cup Event Authority, said NBC will televise the final day of racing from three stops on the America's Cup World Series this summer as well as the opening two races of the 34th America's Cup match on Sept. 7 and 8, 2013.
NBC Sports Group is not paying a rights fee. Worth said America's Cup officials will acquire air time and offer commercial time first to their own sponsors.
The biggest risk in televising the America's Cup is the capriciousness of the weather. Delays because of too much wind, not enough wind or wildly shifting breezes can easily mess up broadcast schedules. Organizers believe they've largely avoided that problem by switching to catamarans that can sail in a wide range of conditions. Races have been shortened to better fit into TV time slots and will be sailed close to shore.
Worth said the final races in ACWS stops in Plymouth, England, and San Diego last fall proved that organizers can provide racing on schedule even in brisk conditions that sometimes had boats sailing on edge, with an occasional capsize.
he ACWS is being contested in 45-foot catamarans with high-tech wings as mainsails. The Louis Vuitton Cup and America's Cup match will be sailed in 72-foot cats.
The first NBC broadcast is scheduled for July 1, the final day of the America's Cup World Series in Newport, R.I. The other dates on NBC are Aug. 26 and Oct. 7, so America's Cup organizers will fit events to those slots. Organizers are exploring having an ACWS stop on the Hudson River in New York, which would end on Aug. 26. If that's not possible, there would be ACWS stops in San Francisco ending with televised races on Aug. 26 and Oct. 7.
Whether it's in New York or San Francisco, the regatta ending on Aug. 26 will feature Ben Ainslie's debut with Oracle Racing. The star British sailor, who will be trying for a fourth straight gold medal in the London Olympics, will join Oracle Racing to gain experience for what he hopes will be a title challenge with his own team in the future.
Each boat will carry an HD camera and 14 microphones. America's Cup officials have developed a system called LiveLine that will insert graphics into live shots from helicopters. Lines similar to the yellow first-down line used in football broadcasts will be used to show which boat is ahead, distance to the marks and course boundaries.
The first America's Cup race to be televised live was Race 7 in Newport, R.I., in September 1983, when ESPN carried Australia II's victory over Dennis Conner's Liberty that ended the New York Yacht Club's 132-year winning streak.
Four years later, ESPN's late-night broadcasts from Australia were a hit in the United States as Conner won back the silver trophy in a four-race sweep of Kookaburra III.
Oracle Racing's victory against Alinghi of Switzerland off Valencia, Spain, in February 2010 was available in the United States only on the Internet.