The plain fact is that the AC could lose every sailor as a fan, and it wouldn't make a bit of difference in its long-term viability. Although we are the natural fan base, there are so few of us that we aren't even a drop in the bucket of the total sports and event marketplace.
The AC may have aspirations to be like NASCAR or Formula 1, but it's really more like the Triple Crown. Those are not really sports like the NFL; they are three "EVENTS". Ain't nobody (or almost nobody) there who really cares about horse racing; they are there because it's an EVENT, a big excuse for a party. I think the best outcome for the AC series is to create a series of Events that draw people in. It might even make some sailors out of a few fans. But I don't think there is much chance of duplicating NASCAR or F1.
Based on what I saw of the coverage in San Francisco last time, most people were there for the "experience". The race village had so much stuff to do and see, you could get your money's worth without even looking at the racing. The racing was actually fabulous, but that was more of a bonus than anything. I'd be very interested to know from our intrepid, on-the-scene reporter Mark what he thinks of the crowds in Bermuda. Did they come primarily to see the racing? Or did they come because it is a place to see and be seen? Some combination?
For me, I absolutely love the new format, the new boats, and the whole thing. The AC has always been a technology-based competition, and I like that this Defender has embraced that. On the other hand, I would have no problem if the next winner wanted to go back to IACC boats, or even 12's or J's. Just so long as they understand that no one but a small group of sailors would be interested in the races.
They already have made this a series of events. The AC world series goes on for two years before the finals, and that travels all over the world bringing stadium sailing to many. Then those boats are handed over to young sailors for competition events, while the others move into the LV and AC.
The crowds here are very diverse. The organizers have done a great job of making the event available at low cost to the local population, and on weekends in particular they make up 50% of both the land and water spectators. It seems both an event and race to them, as they watch the race intently, then go anchor together and party.
The non locals are very diverse - lots of Brits, Swedes, NZ and surprisingly many Japanese. There were a lot of French during the first round. Most seem to be keen on the sport and not here for the event.
The superyacht crowd appears to be here entirely for an event - not sure they even know racing is occurring.
If the races go backwards from here, the group of sailors interested in it will be even smaller than you suspect. Nobody under 20 is interested in slow monohulls at all. Nobody. Most have never seen a slow mono AC event, and many weren't even born for the last one. These kids will never accept an apparent wind aft of their beam and view spinnakers with derision. There are a lot of young kids here, and they are eating this up. The local yacht club kids sail foiling moths (I've never seen these before, but they are zipping around here - woooweee!).
Anyone you might get a negative opinion from about the direction and future of sailboat racing is an old man yelling "get off my grass".
This tide has turned.