I have written a bit about some of the happenings in the America's cup. I think things have solidified enough for me to venture an opinion on the prospects for the 34th cup.
First, the boats look really cool. The goal seems to be to contest the America's cup in the most advanced sailboat available. They will run 40 foot cats with rigid wing rigs for the first year, then up to 70 foot cats, again with wing rigs for the rest of the lead up events and the final event. The boats are expected to be the fastest and most powerful boat available. They are designed to be very very fast, but also may be hard to control. They will definitely be different from what has been sailed in the past. They look interesting enough for me to start thinking about sailing cats in 2011. My club has a Nacra 570 and an F 18. Both cool, fast cats but not nearly as crazy as the big boys. Last year I thought Tasers were the coolest thing around but I am now looking forward to playing with cats. I think other sailors who are exposed to the wing rigged boats may think about moving away from mono hulls and into cats as well. Some of the pro teams don't seem to feel the same way though as they have decades of experience and time invested in mono hulls and don't want to play the new game. It looks like it will be a draw with some teams leaving and new teams forming to replace them.
The racing format will be designed for T.V. This can only be a good thing. T.V. coverage of a sailing event with fast, exciting boats? Close to land, with Formula 1 style camera work? I'll be watching that! I don't see how this could be bad, but some of the existing teams do. They say the format is unproven, and is unlikely to economically viable. From the example of the VX 40 cat series that has good T.V. coverage and is run in an accesable venue I think it will work out just fine.
The defender has tried to set up the series with a mind to controlling costs. They have done this by including a lot of services in the initial entry fee. You pay one fee and you get a 40 foot boat to race the first year, a base at each venue and weather resources at each venue. They are also making rules to limit support staff and the size of the sailing team. Makes for a steep entry fee, but lower operating costs. Previous additions of the cup required an enormous budget and huge resources to run a campaign. I think its a positive sign that they are attempting to address the issue at all.
So far it looks like a few teams have chosen to take their mono hull experience and compete in the Audi Med cup in TP52s rather than run a cup campaign. This can also be a good thing as it keeps a good series of races in very high performance mono hulls, and allows the America's cup to develop into a venue for extremely high performance catamarans. I think the commentator who said that the teams that don't get in this year and balk at the cost now may never go back to cup racing latter as the cost will be even higher as teams start to develop and the standard of racing goes up. If they chose to enter the cup in its current format they will likely get the most level playing field there ever has been. At this time there are only a few sailors with experience designing, building and racing these boats. Admittedly they all work for the defender right now, but at least all the challengers are all in the same boat. They all need to go find cat sailors and get them on board asap.
All in all I think that the event will be good for the sport of sailing. Anything that gets T.V. time is going to get exposed to more people. More exposure that can only result in more interest in sailing. Especially if people see sailing as being a fast paced, exciting sport rather than as as dull, uninteresting and hard to understand.