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America's Cup blamestorming begins, but Barcelona offers best chance of Cup recovery

by Richard Gladwell/Sail-World 30 Mar 07:09 PDT 31 March 2022
Te Aihe, Emirates Team New Zealand - October 05, 2020 - Waitemata Harbour - America's Cup 36 © Richard Gladwell / Sail-World.com

New Zealand seems to be split three ways over the loss of the 2024 America's Cup hosting rights to the city of Barcelona.

One group of politicians and lobbyists are thanking Emirates Team New Zealand for removing the reason for investing tax and ratepayers dollars in a yacht race. The self-styled lobby group NZ Taxpayers Union claim they sent a bouquet of flowers to their Spanish counterparts to thank them for saving the New Zealand Government further investment in the America's Cup.

The other group believes that Auckland and New Zealand are being deprived of a free show, to which they are entitled as citizens of the America's Cup Defender country.

A third group feels that New Zealand's major events policy needs a shakeup, focusing on getting Kiwi businesses out of the Black Hole created by lengthy COVID lockdowns over the past two years. Those measures have seen the major City Centres, and Auckland in particular, resemble ghost towns - missing only the tumbleweeds.

The loss of the 2024 America's Cup is the second major yachting event to bypass what was once known as the City of Sails. The recently announced skipping of an Auckland stopover by The Ocean Race - formerly the Volvo Ocean Race - mainly passed unnoticed except by sailing fans.

Auckland's 2024 Dance Card is not all white space, with the 2024 SailGP regatta scheduled for Auckland and the possibility of another fully crewed ocean race stopping over in 2024.

Most Cup critics ignore the fact that as well as being a sport, the America's Cup and Emirates Team New Zealand are the shop window for the New Zealand Marine industry, which turns over $2.4billion annually with $700million of exports. Without investing in significant yachting events like America's Cup to be hosted in Auckland, it is a lot harder to sell to international markets for the marine industry. The return to the Government comes back directly in GST and other taxes paid by the teams, fans and superyacht visits. Without the Cup hosting in NZ, that tax revenue is not realised.

The Cup critics also ignore the fact that 35 venues put up their hands for consideration when Emirates Team New Zealand offered the opportunity in its Venue Selection Process Hosting Guide issued in November 2020. Against that backdrop, why did the New Zealand authorities consistently put forward offers which anyone with a modicum of America's Cup understanding, would know were likely to be declined?

The long list was whittled down to four shortlisted options, three of which reached the required funding threshold. After initially being selected as the venue in September 2021, the fourth venue, Ireland, was reigned at the 11th hour by public servants within the Emerald Isle's Ministry of Sport.

Cup gets out of survival mode

While the 2024 America's Cup is Auckland's loss, most see the shift back to Europe for the third time as in the best interest of the Cup, which has never recovered from the prolonged action in the New York Supreme Court from late 2007 to early 2010.

Eleven Challengers contested the 2007 Louis Vuitton Cup in Valencia to select the Challenger to contest the 2007 Match against the defending champion Alinghi. Nine challengers contested the 2003 challenger event in Auckland and eleven challengers in the 2000 LVC.

After the three year Court battle, Challenger numbers dropped to just three for the 2013 LVC, increasing to five in 2017 (albeit several had financial assistance from the Defender) and with three super-Challengers in Auckland in 2021.

Over a period of five Cups, the America's Cup Class changed five times, arguably six, if the still-born AC62 class is included. The Cup is crying out for stability.

Current entry numbers are up slightly to four challengers for the 2024 event, with the prospect of a couple more to come for the 2024 Challenger Series, now that the class, venue, and regatta dates have been confirmed.

There is no indication as yet as to what America's Cup action, if any, Auckland will see in the build-up to the 2024 America's Cup.

Youth and Women's America's Cup events will be contested in the 12metre long AC40s. It is expected that there will be several changes to the Protocol governing the 2024 America's Cup now that the venue and dates have been finalised.

The change of regatta venue has triggered a change in dates, with the event now taking place on the other side of the 2024 Olympic Games. The 37th America's Cup will now be sailed in September/October 2024. The highly popular Vendee Globe race starts the following month in November. For sailing fans the latter half of 2024 will be the Dreamtime.

In a media conference held in Barcelona immediately after the venue announcement, Emirates Team NZ CEO blamed the Kiwi Home Defence group for "singlehandedly torpedoing any chance of the America's Cup being held in New Zealand."

Several members of Emirates Team New Zealand, including Dalton, COO Kevin Shoebridge and long-time legal adviser Russell Green flew to Europe to make the final decision which was only taken on Sunday. The decision was advised two days before the March 31, 2022 deadline, which already had one extension.

A critical factor in favour of Barcelona was the readiness of the Catalonian city to be able to host teams. "The port here has gone out of their way to make this work. It is perfect because it is almost ready-made. For example, Alinghi will be looking for a home - they can start building a base here tomorrow - it is that ready-made," he said.

"Another criterion was to be able to sail near the fans. Here we can be 100 metres off the beach, and it is 100 metres deep - so we can sail very close to shore. Jeddah and Malaga had that as well," he added.

Turning to the funding, which has caused much hand-wringing in New Zealand, Dalton said the objective was to get the event fully funded and then pivot the team funding around that. "The amount of money we have had to raise for the team hasn't changed. It is the same mathematical equation that has been there the whole time."

"The team is not yet fully funded. We have the Hosting Fee, we have got the event paid for, and the necessary infrastructure is in place. At this stage, the team never was going to be fully funded. The un-closeable gap of $50million was the defining factor against New Zealand," Dalton added. The team says it regards the financial side of the hosting arrangement with Barcelona as being "contractually guaranteed and secure."

"One of the mistakes New Zealand made was that they thought we were asleep at the wheel - not serious, couldn't get it together, and that we didn't have any choice."

"It's not the first time we've been underestimated," he added.

Dalton says that Barcelona was attracted to the event not just because of the America's Cup but also because of "other pieces". They include diversity, sustainability, pathways for women and youth beyond the Olympic level - and what Barcelona calls their "blue economy" - known elsewhere as "green", including developing hydrogen-powered chase boats.

"Already, there is a remarkable list of substantial sponsors, who want to become involved," says Dalton. "In my time in the Cup, I have never seen anything like this. So far, it is off to a brilliant start."

Positive reaction

The reaction of other challengers over the Barcelona venue to both ETNZ and Sail-World has been positive. Dalton says the relationship between Defender and Challenger of Record is strong - "and we want to keep it that way".

At this stage, the intention is to offer the unsuccessful venues the opportunity to host an America's Cup World Series event. Dalton is particularly keen to have an event in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. "I think it is the future. We have the total support of World Sailing to race there. And the same for Malaga. They've been fantastic - they are just down the road, and we did start that conversation yesterday."

While Dalton didn't rule out having an ACWS event in Cork, he says the level of bureaucracy in Ireland was the same as in New Zealand. "I think they run out of the same playbook."

"We'd absolutely like to go to Cork. They have been fantastic and did a very detailed due diligence exercise on the hosting. As a general comment, they had less emotional attachment to the Cup than the other venues. But there's no reason why we wouldn't go to Ireland."

Dalton doesn't buy the notion that New Zealand loses its hometown advantage by having the 2024 America's Cup hosted at an overseas venue. "Staying at home is a complete disadvantage," he says. "It drives complacency. If you look at history, no team has three-peated (post-1983). There is a simple pattern - they lose focus, think they are too good, and they become individuals, not a team.

"We are at our best when we are in "raid mode". We're at our best when we are a Challenger, not as a Defender. We are at our best when we are angry. I think we are much more razor-sharp when we are away. We don't come here to be a tourist. We are here to work - and that makes us a much more potent weapon."

The announcement of Barcelona as a venue and the shift in projected dates from May/June 2024 to September/October 2024 will require some changes in the Protocol governing the 37th America's Cup Match. But all changes to the Protocol need the agreement of the Challenger of Record - Royal Yacht Squadron Ltd.

The requirement permitting teams to sail only at the Match Venue from June 1, 2023, to September 2023 will likely be amended and shifted to mirror the racing period in 2024 for the Match and Challenger Selection Series. Emirates Team New Zealand told Sail-World that they expect to be sailing in Auckland next Summer. Under the Protocol, established teams can sail from September 1, 2022.

As a new challenger, the Swiss team, Alinghi, is permitted to sail for up to 20 days from June 1, 2022, using the first generation AC75, Te Aihe - acquired from Emirates Team NZ.

Alinghi is expected to be the first Challenger to sail in the 37th America's Cup cycle - 15 months after Emirates Team New Zealand defended the Cup in Auckland.

Although an antagonistic NZ Government set the scene for the Cup to leave New Zealand, minutes after Te Rehutai crossed the finish line for the final time - at that juncture, few would have picked today's outcome.

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