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Captains of Industry Hijack Yacht Race

Other sponsors, like Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS - Get Report), also lost interest in the squabbling over "rigid wing sails" and boat origins and jumped ship. As a result, the budget for this year's contest shrunk to roughly $11 million. You could blame Bertarelli for changing the rules governing crew members' nationalities before racing Italy's Prada team in 2003, bringing a maritime trophy to a landlocked nation and basically making the cup a meet-up of international mercenaries. You can blame Ellison for picking up Bertarelli's former skipper, New Zealand's Russell Coutts, as a free agent and driving up the already astronomical price of yachts with his more than $20 million three-hulled beast.

The main reason the rules laid out in the America's Cup Deed of Gift document have gone through more interpretations within the last year than a religious text, however, has less to do with the infusion of corporate money and billionaire pride than it does with the billions at stake. As Ellison weighs offers from San Francisco (home of his Golden Gate Yacht Club), San Diego and Newport, R.I., to host the next world cup, Cannon says the event could generate $4 billion to $6 billion for each city.

That kind of capital is enough to bring sponsors back into the game, as evidenced by the lesser-known Whitbread round the World Race. Started in 1973, with three sailors lost in the inaugural contest, the event was held once every four years until it was eventually rebranded the Volvo (VOLVB) Ocean Race in 2001. The event went to 12 cities during its 2008-2009 campaign and drew sponsors including Inmarsat (ISAT), Michelin (ML), Puma (PUMG) and Ericsson (ERIC - Get Report). Like the America's Cup, each stop is an opportunity for these companies to plan parties for and play to the captive demographic of nearly 200,000 luxury-minded earners in the gallery seats.

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