An interviewer asked Oracle ORCL +0.18% CEO Larry Ellison if it was worth spending $100 million to win the America’s Cup. Ellison answered that it was much better than spending $100 million to lose the America’s Cup.
That $100 million may be low by about a factor of two, according to many estimates. Yacht racing is not a big time sport in the US – NBC Sports paid nothing for the rights to televise it. Ellison is not a guy known for giving stuff away for free, but he’s trying to bring world class sail racing up to the level of a niche sport, and wanted to put on a good show. He did. The TV coverage was an outstanding demonstration of data visualization for sports – all thanks to Ellison, and Team TISI -12.26% Oracle, who developed the technology. Think of the yellow field goal line on steroids. Currents, winds, vectors showing where the boats were headed and where they had to end up blended seamlessly with the video images, to put on quite a show. Early races drew an embarrassingly small audience, not much more than 50,000 in the early stages.