SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Just a month ago, the America's Cup "village" along San Francisco's waterfront had few visitors.
Its trendy, temporary bars often had more staff than patrons and retail workers at souvenir shops stood behind silent cash registers as sailing's most prestigious competition got off to a desultory start with single-competitor "races" that drew little interest.
Then Oracle Team USA launched one of the greatest comebacks in sports history. On Wednesday, tens of thousands lined up along the city's waterfront, found vantage points on the city's many hills overlooking San Francisco Bay and took to the water in all manner of watercraft to watch software billionaire Larry Ellison retain sailing's most prestigious trophy.
Now the question is whether Ellison will bring the next America's Cup back to a city where he endured a lawsuit, political opposition and scaled-back ambitions he blamed on too much bureaucracy to hold the event here. The winner of each event gets to pick the location of the next race.
Ellison, who owns a San Francisco mansion, said during a news conference that he didn't take any of the political opposition personally and called the event a success.
"It was the most beautiful regatta I have ever seen," said Ellison, who recently purchased an island in Hawaii. Ellison said he would discuss where to hold the next event with senior members of the Oracle team before announcing the next location.
Workers called in sick, children skipped school and thousands of New Zealanders traveled to San Francisco from their home country to watch sailing's premiere event.
A huge roar went up on Pier 23 when Ellison's 72-foot catamaran came into view for the thousands who chose to watch the race from the finish line. The Oracle boat had a huge lead and was obviously heading for victory.
"USA, USA, USA," the United States fans screamed in unison as the American boat zoomed by and crossed the finish line, completing a remarkable comeback and winning the competition nine races to eight. Oracle was once down 8-1.
"I was so nervous," said 10-year-old Wesley Seifers, a budding sailor who skipped classes to watch the race.
"It had to be done," said Vaughn Seifers, Wesley's father. "This is a historic day in sailing."
Some of the many Kiwis who traveled vast distances at great expense expressed disappointment, mixed with pride and hope for the future.
"Sure it's disappointing," said Tony Giannotti, who came to San Francisco with his wife. "But we'll be back."
Other Kiwis complained that Ellison's deep pockets made the difference. Ellison's two boats were built exclusively with the billionaire's money. Team New Zealand cobbled together its funding from many sources, including from the New Zealand government itself.
"All this shows is what money can buy," said Glenn Faulkner, a native New Zealander who lives in Half Moon Bay. "But no worries, mate. We gave it a go and we'll be back."
A flotilla of pleasure craft followed the Oracle boat as it left the race course and sailed under the San Francisco Bay Bridge on its way back to its storage shed. The bars and restaurants along the city's water line began to fill with thousands of residents and tourists, a scene no one would have predicted a month ago when the America's Cup got off to a rough start, including the death of a sailor during a training run over the summer.
Ellison upset many attendees of the annual Oracle "OpenWorld" conference in San Francisco when he skipped delivering the event's keynote address to attend the America's Cup. Ellison's team won both races Tuesday to pull even with Team New Zealand at eight wins each.
Economists say the event will still fall far short of the $1.4 billion economic boon first predicted, but that the America's Cup will still end up an economic success because of the extra days of racing and excitement the Oracle team's comeback has brought the region.
"Every day that this goes on is a good thing for the city," said Sean Randolph, chief executive of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute. "Aside from the economic benefits, there are incalculable benefits that the city gets from all of this exposure."
Randolph and his organization estimated two years ago that the America's Cup would mean an additional 8,000 jobs and $1.4 billion for the region. But that's when event organizers expected as many as 14 syndicates to build temporary bases in the area and challenge for the Cup. In the end, only three challengers emerged and Randolph and his organization revised their estimates in March to about 5,000 jobs added and a $780 million boost to the local economy.
Randolph said it is too early to tell if even those revised numbers will be reached.
"But I have no doubt that the event will be a net-positive economically," he said.
California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who was mayor of San Francisco when the America's Cup competition was awarded to the city, predicted the economic impact of the entire summer of racing and concerts sponsored by the America's Cup will exceed the $480 million in revenue generated by the NFL's Super Bowl in New Orleans earlier this year.