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Marine Resource 2016

America's Cup- Qualifers Venue and Format Decision not announced

by Richard Gladwell/Sail-World.com NZL on 16 Feb 2015
The decision on the venue for the Qualifier Series is believed to have been deferred to allow a late bid from Sydney Oracle Team USA© http://www.oracleteamusa.com
The requirement in the Protocol for the 35th America's Cup for Qualifiers venue to be announced on February 15, has will not be made for a fortnight.

A telephone conference is believed to have been held on Sunday between the five Challengers and Defender, Golden Gate Yacht Club/Oracle Team USA to discuss the options for the Venue for the Qualifier Series and other matters.

Following that meeting of the Competitors Forum, Sail-World was advised by an America's Cup Events Authority spokesman on behalf of the Commercial Commissioner and the teams via the Competitor Forum that: 'An official announcement will be made during the first week of March concerning the venue, dates and format of the America’s Cup Qualifiers and the America’s Cup Challenger Playoffs.'

'We expect to have a date for that announcement within about ten days time.'

It is not clear at the time of writing whether a decision has been made and the teams advised, or if the decision has been deferred pending more information. In the past such date deadlines have always been met with a public announcement of the Decision on or before the specified date in the Protocol.

Article 27.3 of the Protocol states: The Commercial Commissioner (on behalf of ACEA) shall publish the Host City, Venue and dates of the America's Cup Qualifiers as soon as the details are finalized, but no later than February 15, 2015.

The issue being with both the Venue and the Date is that several other elements of the Protocol hinge on these two decisions, and have quite different outcomes and implications for the teams, potential sponsors, funding and the Events.

While the teams will have been appraised of the current thinking and options, that is still well short of a definitive announcement.

The venue bid process is conducted by ACEA, the marketing and event management arm of Golden Gate Yacht Club. ACEA is effectively a private company headed by CEO Russell Coutts and under the Protocol its decisions are not subject to the approval of the Defending Club, Golden Gate Yacht Club.

Under the Protocol, ACEA is authorised to conduct a bid process, and work with the Challenger of Record in the venue review and selection process. After a final selection consultation, ACEA selects the Host City/Venue from the bids received.

The dates of the Qualifiers are also determined by ACEA, after consultation with the Competitor Forum (all Challenging teams and the Defender).

The Qualifiers are permitted to last no more than 30 days and cannot start earlier than four months prior to the start of the play-offs (Semi-Finals and Finals).

PM gives Kiwi bid a tentative nod
Originally, when the America's Cup Protocol was first signed between Golden Gate Yacht Club and then Challenger of Record, Hamilton Island Yacht Club, it was expected that the Qualifiers would be held in Australia.

After Hamilton Island YC had advised that they would not be continuing with the Challenge, the mantle of Challenger of Record fell to the next entered Challenger, Luna Rossa (Italy). The Italian team in turn turned over all their rights to the Challenger group, meaning that any changes to the Protocol must have the support of the majority of the Challengers and the Defender.

It was previously known that Auckland had made a bid to host the Qualifiers, a move that was confirmed in the weekend by NZ Prime Minister, John Key. The funding is justified on the expenditure that would be brought to New Zealand by teams and fans, plus the commercial boost for New Zealand's $1.5billion a year marine industry, the export component of which relies heavily on the international shop-window afforded by involvement in the America's Cup.

Auckland has been a host for two previous America's Cups, and as the launch pad for the new AC45 class, as well as Volvo Ocean Race stopovers and the like. At each of these key events, the economic impact has been predicted and then assessed after the event. The NZ Government has a sound grasp of economic benefit for such events, which stand aside from other sports because of the enormity of the marine industry that coat-tails on them.

The Kiwi marine export industry, which has a high 'value add' can trace its international presence back to the NZ involvement and NZ product use at the 1986-87 America's Cup in Fremantle. The industry was also given a significant leg-up by the various Whitbread RTW and Volvo Ocean Race campaigns led by Peter Blake, Grant Dalton, Ross Field and others.

The Auckland deal is not believed to involve the payment of a venue fee, a similar situation to other events in the America's Cup World Series. However, the venue must pick up all the costs associated with the organisation of the regatta.

The British Overseas Territory of Bermuda has paid a $15million event fee for the right to stage the 35th Match in June 2017. Considerable infrastructure and other costs are expected to take the total bill to over $60million for the island with a population of 65,000.

Aussies accused of being 'asleep at the wheel'

Other options for the Qualifiers are believed to be Bermuda, venue for the America's Cup Match, and a late bid from Sydney, which surfaced last week. Promoter Tony Cochrane is tipped to be involved. He has a colourful history and involvement with V8 Supercar series and other major events on either side of the Tasman.

The Sydney Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that the Australian bid required the signoff from NSW State Premier Mike Baird. With a State election looming, despite a big current majority, that might not be the easier sign-off for the recently re-elected, and highly popular NZ National Party led Government.

A later report published in the same newspaper has it that the NSW bid would require six to eight weeks to be scrutinised by public authorities. Already the matter has turned into a political football with a State election looming, and Opposition politicians accusing the State Premier of 'being asleep at the wheel'. Click here for the latest report.

It is understood that the European teams are reluctant to come to New Zealand or the Southern Hemisphere and would prefer to stay in Bermuda, where they will re-locate in the course of time. Two of the European teams are first time Challengers. The only two Cup winning teams in the 2017 event - the Defender, Oracle Team USA and Team New Zealand are believed to be in favour of the trip Down Under.

Oracle Team USA has a significant investment in Warkworth based Core Builders Composites, which is an hour's drive north of Auckland. Hot-staging Oracle Team USA's first (and maybe second) AC62 from that facility would be a very attractive option.

The date and venue of the Qualifiers are vital as under other provisions of the Protocol teams cannot sail against each other except at the Venue of the Qualifiers. Other dates in the series of events that comprise the America's Cup Regatta and other keys dates hinge around the Qualifier dates.

A team electing not to attend the Qualifiers, in addition to incurring a $1million automatic fine, would risk a further probably more severe penalty if they lined up against another team's AC 62 at the Match Venue.

Under the Protocol, the America's Cup Commissioner is required to publish a date after which teams can sail against each other in AC62's. The deadline for that publication is 30 days after the Match venue announcement - a deadline that has also passed.

Despite the Qualifier being intended to reduce the Challenger field to four teams, ACEA CEO Russell Coutts has previously stated that all teams will be sailing in Bermuda - but only four teams can progress to the Play-off phase. The America's Cup Defender is permitted to sail in the Qualifier Series, providing Oracle Team USA with a vital benchmark. Currently, the Defender is also allowed to sail a second AC 62 - but the launch date of that boat is dictated by Qualifier dates.

Elimination issues aside, the winner of the Qualifier Series would take a one-point advantage into the America's Cup Match if that team were the Defender.

If the winning team in the Qualifiers was one of the Challengers, then to carry the one point into the Match, they would also have to win the Challenger Final and earn the right to Challenge for the 35th America's Cup to be sailed in June 2017.
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