Mark Buell has one of the tallest order jobs going in the America’s Cup and he doesn’t get paid for it. Is the man crazy? Not yet, but I’ll check back with him in September 2013. Buell is Chairman of the America’s Cup Organizing Committee (ACOC). Through the auspices of the ACOC, a San Francisco-based not for profit group established after Larry Ellison and ORACLE Racing won the 33rd America’s Cup almost a year ago, Buell and his team uphold a crucial part of the infrastructure upon which the success of the next Cup event is dependent
So, just what is ACOC’s charge?
According to Buell ACOC’s responsibility is to carry out all those items in the agreement with the City, known as the Host City Agreement, to host AC34 in San Francisco.
ACOC has to raise about $32 million to do the environmental documents on the improvements to the Port, for the security that’s going to be needed - the extra police, the extra transportation, the placement and permitting of bleachers along the waterfront, coordinating with the Golden Gate National Park, and the State over at Angel Island and the City to make sure everything is in place for the race.
ACOC will also assist the America’s Cup Event Authority (ACEA) in their fundraising (ACEA needs to raise approximately $270 million to build out the physical infrastructure for the event in the City) and with tasks like helping people working in the event relocate to the City as well the permitting that will be involved to develop the infrastructure.
“Some 2000 people will move to the city for at least a year, like the crews of the boats competing - we’ll have to help those people get housing, help their kids into school, get them settled - there’s just a myriad of responsibilities that have to happen,” Buell explained.
Key dates are beginning to slide by that are crucial to sponsors who will be looking for as much value for their big sponsorship dollars as possible. Per the Protocol, format, schedule, scoring and venues were to be announced on January 31 for the new World Series beginning this year in the AC45 catamaran, but already that announcement has been delayed a few weeks according to ACEA.
Another date that’s just slipped by is February 1, when ACEA and ACOC, as a requirement of the agreement with the City, were to present a sponsorship program. Buell said that both groups met on Tuesday and are very close to an agreement. “There are no disagreements so we’re verbally in agreement, just a few details to iron out. The most important part is that we will have just one team focused on the fund-raising effort on behalf of both sides to move this forward,” Buell stated.
“I can’t speak to the Event Authority and their responsibilities to release venue dates and so on, but there’s no question they’re under an enormous amount of pressure. It only speaks to how tightly designed this whole schedule is to get to the America’s Cup by 2013. To ACOC’s schedule, we’re already raising money,” Buell added.
Louis Vuitton is on board as a major sponsor but Buell says the two groups are still in the hunt for the next big sponsors. “It takes, in my experience and ACEA’s experience, six months from introducing a company an idea to getting a signature. Many companies have been approached and there are many companies interested.”
While it’s been a volunteer run Committee of some 50 people to date, Buell will begin to staff ACOC shortly, announcing in a few weeks an executive director, an operations director and hopefully a development director, initially.
So how did Buell get himself into this daunting role? “That’s a very good question,” Buell laughed. “The City made a pitch to me and my first mistake was saying I would be their acting chair until they found somebody better! But, I was the guy who always got up in the middle of the night when the America’s Cup was on to watch it. I’ve always been fascinated. I crewed as a young man on sailboats in races on the Bay.”
Buell, a San Francisco native and former real estate developer married to Susie Tompkins Buell, a well respected San Francisco business woman and philanthropist, said he’s fortunate to be able to devote the kind of time that the “project” needs. He’s also well positioned to share his years of civic experience; he’s currently President of the Recreation and Park Commission in San Francisco, and he chairs the Board of the Golden Gate National Park Conservancy; the latter takes up about two thirds of the viewing area of the race course. Technically, he’s also “landlord” to both the Golden Gate Yacht Club and the St Francis Yacht Club.
“I’m very familiar with much of the public policy that is in place around doing anything like this,” Buell said.
His big challenge in all this? Time.
“We’re on a very tight timeframe, there’s no question about it. San Francisco’s new mayor, Ed Lee’s first order of business was to organize an inter-governmental task force to make sure the City did their fair share of the business and I don't think the city will slow down on their side. I think ACEA has a tall mountain to climb getting all the sponsorship money in on time, and at ACOC we have a big order in trying to raise $32 million. It’ll be challenging but the negotiations today with ACEA were definitely on the right page as to how to make this happen. We all want to get there.”