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Gladwell's Line: Dalts told to walk the plank by wannabe financial backers

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz 3 Sep 19:13 PDT 4 September 2021
America's Cup match day 2 - Emirates Team New Zealand © ACE / Studio Borlenghi

Emirates Team New Zealand and the America's Cup never seem to be long out of the headlines.

Attempts to force the next Cup to be held in New Zealand are misguided.

The current Defender and America's Cup trustee, Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, are doing what they should be doing - which is to take the recommendation and decision from their America's Cup team and endorse it.

Now is not the time for the RNZYS Committee to be second-guessing a team that has been a four-time winner of the most prestigious trophy in sailing.

Maybe more relevant is the fact that Team New Zealand has not won the Cup from six of its ten challenges.

More than any other team over the past 37 years, as well as knowing how to win the America's Cup, Team New Zealand also know how to lose it.

New Zealand Govt parties had a three month exclusive negotiation period to develop an acceptable and workable deal. The outcome was that an arrangement was not put forward that ETNZ's management was confident would be fit for purpose for the next Defence.

ETNZ's management needs to be flexible and sufficiently agile to raise additional money/sponsorship if required or for the team to take a new direction as the current Cup cycle unfolds.

ETNZ has been ahead of the other teams in the last two Cups to develop and rely on various simulators, Artificial Intelligence, and running an efficient test program. Those strategies require astute management, particularly early in the cycle when cash flow is lean.

The proposal currently on the table to defend the Cup in New Zealand is hinged around getting tax deductibility for donations under an arrangement that requires a binding ruling from the NZ tax authorities. Good luck with getting that through in a couple of weeks.

The additional management layers proposed are potentially cumbersome and inefficient for an America's Cup team.

The reasons for the requirement by the anonymous funding group, as a condition of their involvement, for Emirates Team NZ CEO Grant Dalton to be replaced have not been explained.

The call for Dalton to step aside is nothing new and has been made many times and starting in April 2008, in a story in the Sunday Star-Times with the headline "Dalton broke and desperate - Butterworth" (Brad Butterworth was the skipper of ETNZ rival Alinghi until after the 2010 America's Cup).

Eight months later, a similar claim resurfaced in the opening paragraph of a Stuff story with the screaming headline: "Brad Butterworth believes Team New Zealand is on the cusp of going broke and has no chance of sailing in another America's Cup if managing director Grant Dalton stays at the helm."

And then there was the short-lived #LetsGetDalton# social media comment posted by Jimmy Spithill, along with a picture of Spithill and his new sailing buddy - Softbank Team Japan's Dean Barker, strolling dockside in Bermuda. The hashtag was ambiguous and only stayed up a few hours.

No one in America's Cup circles takes these comments too seriously. Most of what Brad Butterworth says is tongue in cheek, but he still makes his point. However he gets a solid bite from the mainstream media every time. Brad is one of the few in the sport who knows what to say, and when, to get good copy.

The purpose of the comments is to be disruptive and are part of the Cup game.

All Challengers and rival teams know that Emirates Team New Zealand is at their most vulnerable in the first year of an America's Cup cycle while finances, strategies, team building and facilities are decided.

Scoring a few quick goals against ETNZ in this period can pay dividends. Using the Kiwi media to score an own goal, can be Cup determining.

The Kiwi media can be relied on to pick up and amplify issues - giving ETNZ a potentially distracting battle on several fronts - hopefully spooking new sponsors and recruits, as well as giving the NZ Government a poke along the way.

Making the headlines

The bust-up over Auckland's loss of the 2017 America's Cup Qualifiers on April 1, 2015, was no April Fools Joke.

Again Grant Dalton, as ETNZ's CEO, was the whipping boy for the kiwi media. The team was later exonerated by the three-person America's Cup Arbitration Panel.

Substantial damages of an undisclosed amount were awarded against the event organisers, payable to ETNZ. The other teams voluntarily agreed to a month-long no-sail period to compensate ETNZ for time lost rather than have a possibly longer timeout imposed by the Arbitration Panel.

In mid-October last year, four times America's Cup winner, Brad Butterworth was brought in by Challenger of Record Luna Rossa to ostensibly smooth the waters for the looming Christmas Cup and Prada Cup challengers series. Those in America's Cup circles just smiled and waited for the first volley of fireworks, which were ignited a couple of days later.

Attacks through the media directly against Dalton and indirectly against the team have become commonplace and generally get brushed off as a bit of gamesmanship by the America's Cup family.

The shots fired via the mainstream media at Dalton and the team, such as what happened in the middle of last year, were serious and made front-page news for three days until the team obtained a court injunction. A subsequent government-ordered audit found the claims were entirely without foundation. However, it would seem that some of that mud has stuck.

In that media ruckus, there were more calls for the removal of Grant Dalton as CEO of one of the entities America's Cup Event Ltd, again by those outside the Cup game.

Cup insiders were well aware of the pitfalls of running entirely separate Event and Defence teams, and the mistake was not to be repeated.

Ashby's take

Maybe unsurprisingly, those within the team have a different view of their CEO - evidenced by ETNZ wingsail trimmer Glenn Ashby's comments on Shirley Robertson's latest podcast.

"Dalts has been the key to keep the team functioning and rolling," Ashby told the double Olympic Gold medalist, turned sailing commentator.

"Without Dalts putting bread and milk on the table, the team simply can't operate. You can have the best sailors in the world, the best designers in the world, but if no-one can get paid - they are going to go elsewhere."

"Those responsibilities that Grant does have are immense. They're massive," he emphasised.

"When you know what he deals with, I don't know how he gets through what he does. There are not too many people on the planet, who I can think of, who can take on as many things as he does. Kevin (Shoebridge) and Richard (Meacham) are probably not far off it. But what Grant does is quite difficult, and if he doesn't do his job well, the whole team can't do their job at all. It has been a massive responsibility."

"For Dalts to be able to lift the Cup up as both a Challenger and Defender is testimony to the hard yards he has put in."

"You have to work hard to achieve success, and I don't think there is any question that Dalts hasn't worked hard for the success we've achieved."

In what was viewed by most as a hospital pass, Grant Dalton took over the management of Team New Zealand immediately after the 2003 Defence debacle. The Kiwis became the first defender in America's Cup history to fail to finish two races. (In fact, they became only the second defender not to finish a race in 133 years of competition.)

According to the media release back in April 2003, Dalton's first task was to determine if and how New Zealand could mount a challenge in Europe with an expected price tag of a cool $150million. On Dalton's appointment, the Government kicked in $5million - later stretched out to become a $38million sponsorship package, with a contract for two America's Cup cycles.

He signed Emirates Airlines as the naming rights sponsor the following year, and the renamed Emirates Team NZ won the IACC World Championship. Out of the following four America's Cups, Emirates Team NZ had two narrow losses and two dominant wins.

The lessons of the mass exit from Team NZ in May 2000, and its aftermath in the 2003 America's Cup Defence, seem to be lost on those who now call for the highly successful team's CEO to walk the plank as a condition of their unspecified financial involvement.

Those calling for Dalton's departure are obviously unaware that Alinghi's Ernesto Bertarelli, and others of his ilk are hanging out until November 17, and the announcement of the Protocol for the 37th America's Cup before pushing the Go-button on their AC37 Challenge. While the nationality clause will only cover sailors, getting a trophy-boss like Dalton on board a new or existing team, is a game changer - not just to acquire Dalts' accomplished team management skills, but also for the people he can bring and recruit.

At least some of us have learned from history and don't care to repeat it.

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