HAMILTON, BER – In a world exclusive, SAILING ILLUSTRATED can reveal the ugly truth behind today's live NBC telecast that was such an amazing cockup. In a last-minute decision, NBC decided, incredibly, to go with salaried NBC journeyman announcer Todd Harris to do play-by-play with color commentary provided by Nathan Outteridge (AUS, skipper of Artemis Racing) and, of all people, Chris Draper (GBR), the tactician for Dean Barker on SoftBank Team Japan. As knowledgeable and nice as Draper and Outteridge are, they are amateur acts when it comes to commentary, and had about as much energy and savoir faire as yesterday's clam chowder.
Meanwhile the World Feed had the two commentators who, until now, we have thoroughly enjoyed on the NBC Sports Network telecasts (and the NBC Sport App) to almost universal acclaim – Alastair Eyken (GBR) and Ken Read (USA).
But, no, not NBC!
Until now Alastair Eykyn has been the play-by-play commentator, and Ken Read the expert analyst. Eykyn is a Brit who works for the BBC and BT Sport, with rugby and tennis his specialties. Sailing aficionados know little about him while Read is highly respected. Ken, of course, is a top sailor who helmed Dennis Conner's America's Cup teams in 2000 and 2003, has skippered Volvo Ocean Race campaigns, helms maxis, and is President of North Sails. Read was the TV analyst for the last America's Cup in San Francisco with Gary Jobson and NBC's nice-guy Todd Harris.
Multiple sources tell your Ed. that NBC wanted an American voice, and didn't like the cut of Alastair Eykyn's jib, er, sound of his voice. Disappointing, as together with our longtime friend Kenny Read, in my humble opinion (and just about everyone else I know) they have been doing a terrific job. Alastair has been a quick sailing study and a real pro – especially when paired with the personable and knowledgable Ken Read.
By contrast, the last minute Harris-Outteridge-Draper trio were hopeless. Your Ed. was literally screaming at the TV as OTUSA came flying in from the left at the top of Leg 5 in Race 2, almost passing ETNZ at the gate while NBC's three confused commentators were gas-bagging about some meaningless trivia.
Moreover, NBC had no on-the-water commentator while the World Feed again had OTUSA's Joey Newton (AUS). Joey has been calm, insightful, and amazingly observant. Together with Ali and Ken the telecast has, or had, come alive.
But there is more to it than NBC not liking someone's voice. As always, when things don't add up follow the money. Your Ed. has been reliably informed that that NBC was simply cutting costs. Todd Harris, as a salaried staff announcer, doesn't cost them anything except expenses to be in Bermuda. Outteridge and Draper are delighted to have their 15 minutes of USA TV fame, and cost NBC nothing, nada.
Here's hoping that tomorrow NBC will come to their senses and relegate Todd Harris to doing the pre-race show, and between-races studio show (like a half-time show in other sports) with Nathan and/or Chris, or better yet, someone a bit more lively and experienced like Paul Cayard. If we are are subject to more of the same from the tragic trio we saw today, your Ed. will find another way to watch the racing than on the main NBC broadcast network. And there are other ways, trust me. But what a huge letdown for the America's Cup, and our sport, in the USA.