SAN FRANCISCO — 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 the sport's history. On Wednesday, tens of thousands of fans are expected to line up along the city's waterfront and find vantage points from the city's many hills to watch the winner-take-all final race.
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. There's a chance the final race could be postponed Wednesday because of light winds. But that would benefit the area economically.
"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.
On Wednesday, fans began arriving at the waterfront, some decked out in red, white and blue and many more sporting the national colors and images of New Zealand, where sailing is a mainstream sport. The New Zealand entry is the only syndicate to have received government funding. The other three entries were backed mostly by billionaires, including Oracle's Larry Ellison.
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.
The first team to win nine races wins the America's Cup. New Zealand once held a commanding 8-1 lead over Oracle.