ACWS attracts 60,000 to Newport over nine-day event
The America’s Cup World Series in Newport is over, and by all accounts it was a major success by any standard of measurement. Huge crowds filled Fort Adams and Fort Wetherill over the weekend, and the spectators were treated to a thrilling spectacle that featured speed, grace and athletic prowess.
Brad Read, the executive director of Sail Newport, made 44 personal appearances after he was named chairman of the state America’s Cup World Series Host Committee, including several in Jamestown. His journeys throughout the area were an effort to drum up public awareness of the upcoming event. According to Read, all of the hard work paid off.
“I personally am incredibly proud of the pre-event publicity that we were able to do with very little funding to get nearly 11,000 people on site for two straight days,” Read said. “If you add up everyone from the first day that the venue was open, it exceeded the numbers that we thought it was going to be. I’m very proud of it and I’m ready for it to come back tomorrow.”
The state Economic Development Corporation announced Monday that nearly 60,000 total people attended the event over the course of the nine days.
Read said that there was a certain melancholy feeling now that the event is over. But there is still work to do as he will take part in a series of meetings with state agencies this week to go over what went right – and wrong – during the course of the event.
According to Read, the Sail Newport staff has been bombarded with nice notes from volunteers and spectators. Even people who watched from the water wrote to admit that the advance publicity had been right all along: It was better to watch the racing from land.
“The venue worked, the preevent planning worked, and the logistics worked,” Read said. “Pride is the overwhelming emotion right now. We’re proud of Rhode Island, proud of the bay, and proud of the sailing.”
Read said that there were 40 people on the host committee, and perhaps 100 more on the various subcommittees. “Those people worked tirelessly to get the word out. They all did a wonderful job. It was a lot of work but you could tell that people believed in it, and overwhelmingly we turned the tide from skepticism to excitement leading into the event.”
Read is also one of the country’s most respected sailors, and from that perspective, he found himself wanting more racing to watch. “They do a lot of sailing, and it is hard work for the sailors, but I would like to see more,” Read said in reference to the somewhat short sailing programs that were presented each day. “The sailing is spectacular. These truly are the best multihull sailors in the world.”
According to Paul Harden, executive director of America’s Cup Rhode Island, the event went well. “I was very pleased with the size of the crowds. What amazed me too was the age range. It seemed like there were people from 5 to 85 there. Everyone I talked to seemed very pleased with the event.”
Dozens of people volunteered their time over several months to serve on the host committee and its various subcommittees. In Harden’s eyes, the effort paid off handsomely.
“It took a lot of time on everyone’s part, but I think that having the committees and having everyone’s input made for a far better event,” he said. “It also helped to increase the awareness of the event in the community.”
Harden said that consultants will issue an economic-impact study on the event later this year. Their findings will be based on a measurement of tax revenue compared to last year at this time.
This week the circus is packing up and leaving town. Harden said that the race village, boats and equipment were packed into containers early this week and trucked to Quonset. From there they will head to the West Coast by rail and reach San Francisco in plenty of time for the America’s Cup World Series event that is scheduled there in August.
Evan Smith, a Jamestown resident who is president of Discover Newport, also thought it was a success. “Those who had a chance to see it came to believe how much fun it could be,” said Smith, who also chaired one of the marketing subcommittees for the event.
Susan Maffei Plowden of Jamestown was the venue manager at Fort Adams for the America’s Cup Event Authority. According to Plowden, the event exceeded expectations in terms of people through the gate. She cited the attendance on Saturday, a day on which 14,000 people came through the park gates, with over 10,000 on hand at one time.
“The weather was incredible,” she said. “We had great conditions for people to come down to the fort and watch some racing. I was surprised by how many people were non-sailors. They’d heard about it and came for the event.”
Plowden said the turnout was impressive especially given the fact that it was the first time the America’s Cup World Series had been a ticketed event. “We kept the price low so it was reasonable. We tried to make it a festival atmosphere. The feedback from everybody was great.”
The organizers weren’t the only ones who enjoyed the America’s Cup World Series in Newport. Dean Barker, skipper of the Emirates Team New Zealand, had a pretty tough week out on the water, capsizing during one race, and hitting a committee boat during practice. But he still enjoyed his time here.
“It’s been a great stop,” he said. “I really enjoyed my time here, and the sailing’s been great as well.”
James Spithill, the defender of the America’s Cup and skipper of one of the Oracle Team USA boats, agreed. “It’s an awesome place to race. It’s incredibly exciting when you have a natural amphitheater like this.”
Iain Murray last sailed here on Advance Australia in the 1983 America’s Cup. He is now the director for America’s Cup Race Management, with overall charge of making sure that the regatta goes smoothly on the water. Murray said that he was happy to be back, and that everyone involved with the America’s Cup was pleased with the local stop. He was particularly impressed by the friendly, sailing-educated crowds.
“It doesn’t get much better for us,” he said.