Mason in talks to head up TV coverage of 12-meter regatta

SAN DIEGO (AP) Veteran sports producer and avid sailor Geoff Mason said he's in discussions to head the television coverage and global distribution of a 12-meter regatta planned for San Francisco Bay in July 2017.

Former America's Cup executive Tom Ehman announced plans earlier this spring for the San Francisco Yacht Racing Challenge in an updated version of the venerable 12-meter class.

''As I have told Tom, if he can put together boats that will be competitive and sailed by recognizable names who will be competitive, on San Francisco Bay at the right time of year, then I think it has the potential for being a pretty saleable TV package,'' Mason said.

Mason is a 26-time Emmy Award winner who sailed on Nefertiti during the 1962 America's Cup defense trials.

He said he's committed through the end of the summer of 2016 with the Rio Olympics for ESPN Latin America and UEFA EURO 2016 in France for ESPN.

Ehman said Mason coming aboard as executive producer for television ''would be a huge boost to the event all around - teams, sponsors, worldwide interest.''

Ehman recently changed the name of the regatta, saying the San Francisco Yacht Racing Challenge better identifies with the whole Bay Area and avoids confusion with the Golden Gate Yacht Club, the current holder of the America's Cup.

Ehman said several dozen teams have expressed interest, and at least 20 from 13 countries appear serious and have the wherewithal to enter.

He said he's continuing to pursue sponsors and will shortly announce who will design what's being called the Super 12 class, which will be made of carbon fiber.

Mason was executive producer of ESPN's coverage of the 1987 America's Cup, which was sailed in big waves and big wind off Australia's western coast and was the last in 12-meters.

Mason said he would like to put together an all-star American TV production team, rather than bringing in professionals from around the world.

He said he knows he's going to hear comments about dull racing because the 12-meters don't go nearly as fast as the catamarans currently used in the America's Cup.

''One thing we can do that they can't do on the catamarans is put camerapersons onboard these boats,'' he said. ''We can give an up close and personal view from onboard that we've never been able to have in the America's Cup.''

The San Francisco Yacht Racing Challenge is attracting considerable interest, especially from those who sailed 12-meters in the America's Cup.

''Let's look at how good TV was in 1983 and `87 in the 12s,'' said Gary Jobson, a TV commentator who was tactician for Ted Turner aboard the victorious Courageous in 1977. ''It's exciting. It's close racing. It's athletic to sail, intellectually stimulating and they sail beautifully. They're really a joy to sail.''

Dick Enersen, who helped win the 1964 America's Cup as a grinder on Constellation, said that while the SFYRC isn't looking to replace the America's Cup, it would be ''more elegant and competitive all at the same time. It's an interesting combination of aesthetics and sport, which was very satisfying for a lot of people.

''This is for sailors by sailors. If the rest of the world wants to tune in and come along, fine. But it's the antitheses of the attempt to reach out to the entire universe and replace or augment NASCAR. This is classic sailboat racing and there sure seems to be an appetite for it.''

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Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson

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