Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Golden Gate Yacht Club Holds Course As AC Host

Tucked away at the end - or the beginning depending on whether you're on foot or under sail - of Yacht Road along the San Francisco Marina West Yacht Basin is the Golden Gate Yacht Club, a two-story-unassuming-almost-quaint yellow building and home of the America's Cup Defender ORACLE Racing. Its location couldn't be more ideal for its task at hand as host club for the 34th edition of the America's Cup - just 1.8 nautical miles east of the Golden Gate Bridge and central to the city front, the site of the future race-course for the next event.

While on paper it seems that the GGYC must hold a fundamental role in all that's been happening over the past year, in all truth we haven't heard much from the folks who constitute the membership in the notoriously modest club. I checked in with Marcus Young, former Commodore of the GGYC and now Staff Commodore, who assured me that there's plenty going on behind the scenes...

As host Club what IS GGYC's role in all this?

Marcus Young: The Club is really the mechanism by which the races occur. In order to become a challenging team for the Cup you have to enter through a recognized yacht club. That’s where the relationship between the Cup and a club starts. Now that we are the Defender and the Trustee of the Cup, we're the point of entry for the other teams wishing to enter. Challenging teams and clubs lodge their challenge to race with us, pay the entry fee and the Club is responsible for the processing and approval of those entries. As we move forward over the next couple of months, the Club will most likely take on a bigger role in some facets. However, we've assigned management of the event over to the new entity, the America's Cup Event Authority (ACEA) because it is important to have professionals who are experienced with the complexities of sports marketing for the management of the event. I would argue that it would be difficult today for any club, really, to manage the business of the racing and the event side of this event on their own without a separate entity assisting on the management side of things. Craig Thompson and his crew are professionals who know how to do this right and we are extremely pleased to have them on board.

That's not a concept that's new to the AC34, however?

Marcus Young: I think it's widely agreed that Dennis Connor really changed the game of the America’s Cup whether you like it or not. He did a lot to professionalize the sport and paved the path for the AC to be a truly professional sport. The on –the-water race management has evolved over the past 10 years and that is a very good thing. The goal should have been and is now to have an independent on the water entity free of the political whim of the defending yacht club. We have that today with America’s Cup race Management. Beyond the racing, however, we have Larry Ellison and Russell Coutts to thank for a broader vision of the event itself and that it where Craig Thompson and his crew come in with ACEA. For AC34 we're trying to create a sustainable model so no matter who wins, there is this independent authority that travels with the event - much like the Olympics with the Olympic committee - and continues to manage it so that no club is crushed by the weight of hosting the event. So a big piece of what we are doing today is creating this sustainable model – all supported by sponsorship and licensing – to help create an event that is at once a great sports spectacle and completely manageable in terms of going forward after the event is over.

Who is taking on the increased responsibilities and activities at GGYC?

Marcus Young: Until a few days ago we had no idea where AC34 was going to be – San Francisco was our first choice, but Italy and Rhode Island had put forward strong cases. Today’s AC is not only about convenience in the location, but it is also about creating that sustainable model and have certainty that all of the pieces are going to come together. Now that we know that the AC is in San Francisco, the real work begins – for the City and for the Club. We're extremely happy the event will be in San Francisco as it puts the spotlight squarely on the Club and there is work to be done. Between now and the end of February, while ACEA gets relocated, we're going to start working on our side to figure out who we need to hire full-time, what can be done by volunteers, etc. The GGYC is small and there will be a need for professional help club side but what that is and how that works is being worked on now.

What changes can we expect to see at GGYC?

Marcus Young: The Club is going through a bit of a renaissance. The focus is really in bringing the physical plant up to a new standard – and it should be mentioned that these plans have been in place for some time, but we now have a more definite deadline to get the projects completed. The changes you'll see will be modest but designed to make our members feel at home in a place where they can really enjoy. You won't see a complete tear-down and re-build. We visited with Larry (Ellison) and others on the subject a few years ago and all agreed that they did not want to see any major physical changes with the club-house because he (Larry) and others involved liked it the way it was. In fact, one of the reasons Oracle came here was because of our casual and non-exclusive feel and so we need to keep that as we go forward.

How has the relationship with the Cup benefited GGYC membership?

Marcus Young: For those of us who have been involved with the Club for some time it's fun to see the changes in membership when the Cup comes into the club-house. It's a great honor to have it and the membership appreciates that. From a perspective of marketing to get new members, it's been great. A lot of people have joined this year because we won and they want to be part of this historic moment. We anticipate that over the next 2-3 years those membership numbers will continue to grow - I'd expect it to double from where we are today, and that would be just about perfect. Membership is our number one priority, so it's something we spend a lot of time working on, a lot of time massaging, so even though we have the Cup, we are not resting. We're always looking for members, good members - people who want to volunteer, put their time in and be part of the organization, give back in a positive way. Of course now we have this great tool we can use to attract people who may not otherwise join. We're still an accessible facility, we still welcome visitors into the clubhouse, which won't change going forward. It's part of who we are and how we've created what it is we have at the Club.

Any truth to the rumor that GGYC & St FYC would merge?

Both clubs have come in and out of that conversation for the better part of a decade and no one should be surprised. It's not that far-fetched. We exist within yards of each other and our facilities are complementary to each other. StFYC is a more traditional operation than ours, we're more casual, but regardless, we share the same real estate locale, and our vision is the same. The question always was and is today, how would our membership feel about merging and would it be in the best interests of each club to do it. Today, we look for ways to partner apart from merging that bring our organizations together in a way that's productive and proactive. In my tenure during the last four years, we have worked diligently with the StFYC to mend fences of our neighborly rivalry and work closer together. You have to give credit to both boards of directors and the flag officers from both organizations to allow that to happen and the result has been beneficial to both clubs. Today we share assets. When they have big races and need more room we facilitate that and vice versa. With the America's Cup here, and even with ACEA and ACRM, we're still looking at the St FYC as a partner in that endeavor as we will look for all of the Bay Area clubs to partner with us in the coming months and years. Are the clubs going to merge in the next 30 days? I really don't think so. But we will continue to work together over the next three years. If the clubs do merge at some point in the future, I can assure you it would be managed as a win-win for everyone. But the only thing we're working on today is a cooperative relationship.

What Cup-related activities will the Club host in the near term?

Marcus Young: There's a lot going on behind the scenes and we are currently putting together our calendar for the year which is both focused on Club activities and AC related activities – both private and public programming. I don't expect to see any details until February after the Board has had a chance to meet and the Entertainment Committee has had a chance to get its arms around everything, given a week ago we weren't really sure where we were going.

How long have you been involved in leadership roles at GGYC?

Marcus Young: I had a six year run in leadership - I was the vice commodore for two years and commodore for four years and was on the board for a couple of years before that. My title now is Staff Commodore and Liaison for the America's Cup Team. My role has shifted slightly, meaning that I don't go in and take a look at the budgets everyday for the Club; and I am not looking at the menu and making changes with our GM. I'm focused on our relationship with ORACLE Racing and our relationship with the City's America's Cup Organizing Committee and ACEA. I was happy to be commodore for both the victory in Valencia last year and to have me tenure as Commodore end with the announcement that San Francisco would be the host city for AC34. It’s a great feeling to go out on such a high note.

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