The America's Cup & What Not to Learn from Larry Ellison

It’s hard to describe what’s going on with the America’s Cup Finals taking place this month out on San Francisco Bay—hard because, frankly, it’s painful.

Larry’s Ellison’s Oracle Team USA won its first yacht race on Sunday only to lose its fourth race in the series on Tuesday and then go on to lose two more races on Thursday. The epic losses, some of over 1 minute in length, have made his well-funded team members look both embarrassed and embarrassing.

How Ellison spends his money, of course, is nobody else’s business. However, advisors often can (and should) be a moderating influence over the “toys” on which their high-net-worth clients like to spend money.

The America's Cup is showing that Ellison, as well as other fellow-America's Cup investor and Swedish billionaire Torbjorn Tornqvist, could use some moderation.

True, just a few days ago, Oracle Team USA—which boasts mainly non-U.S. leadership and membership—looked like it might be able to stage a comeback. But after its abysmal performance in the fifth race on Tuesday, the team took its one “pass” and declined to participate in the sixth race, which was set for later the same day.

Emirates Team New Zealand is clearly able to race upwind, or nearly into, the wind more quickly, aggressively and capably, leaving Team USA with very few options on how to win a race. Team USA can’t out-tack or out-maneuver the Kiwis either, so it played the only card it had left on Tuesday; it's won one race out of seven, but is still in negative territory in terms of points, thanks to cheating and penalties associated with its conduct in previous races.

It’s worth noting that, with all his billions, Ellison’s turned the America’s Cup race into a competition that relies so much on money and technology that it’s become a contest between aero-catamarans. The boats are expensive to build and with wing-shaped sails as big as airplane wings and complicated foiling systems they’re also incredibly difficult to sail.

Ellison had hoped this year’s America’s Cup would ignite new interest in the sport of sailing. Unfortunately, the opposite seems to be true. The boat designs and accidents, one of which ended with the death of a British Olympian and Team Artemis leader, have left the general public more alienated from the sport than ever.

What Donald Trump is to the East Coast, Larry Ellison is to the West Coast. The entrepreneur and his billions are now the butt of more jokes than before the competition started.

(In Larry’s world, his Miss Universe contestant essentially chose to not walk down the catwalk for fear of falling or stumbling, crumbling under pressure or worse.)

Combine Tuesday’s decision to not race in the second contest on the day with the cheating debacle (related to earlier America’s Cup races that left Oracle Team USA with two fewer teammates in the current battle) and you have a lot of people thinking, and saying, that all the money in the world can’t win you a yacht contest. For that matter, it can’t even keep you in it.

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