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Gladwell's Line: Cricket remembers Warnie, Kiwis lose the Cup hosting

by Richard Gladwell/Sail-World 1 Apr 15:42 PDT 2 April 2022
Emirates Team NZ America's Cup celebrations - Day 7 - March 17, 2021 © Richard Gladwell / Sail-World.com / nz

I was privileged to attend the Shane Warne Memorial at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Wednesday evening.

Perched high in the Northern Stand, in seats known as the "Nose Bleeds" (a reference to the altitude, maybe), it was a memorable tribute to the quintessential Australian.

Probably the most poignant moment of the evening came just after the cameras stopped rolling, and the plaintive wail of "Warnie...Warnie...Warnie" came out of the crowd, maybe half in the hope that their hero would stroll out of the stormy sky.

But it was not to be, and at that moment, it really hit home that the King really was gone.

Earlier in the day, New Zealand had a similar moment of epiphany with the news - broken in the early morning that the 2024 America's Cup would be sailed on the Mediterranean from the Catalonian port of Barcelona.

Described as the "bolter" in the shortlist, which included three Spanish cities - Valencia, Malaga, Barcelona, along with Cork and Jeddah.

The edge Barcelona had over the other venues that were able to rustle up the €75million (NZ$120million) financial pre-requisite was that the necessary infrastructure was already in place in Barcelona and that the teams could start setting up tomorrow if required.

There was plenty of speculation in the lead-up to the announcement, made a couple of days ahead of the deadline, as to which venue had the inside running or if there would be an 11th-hour decision to stay in Auckland.

A few days out, we were sought out by an astrologer based in India and asked him for a prediction as to which option - Jeddah, Cork, Barcelona or Malaga would be selected? And, would the announcement be made on March 31 or deferred as was widely expected?

His second response (after an initial misread) was: "The Venue would be far away from the Questioner's place and something which does not suit him or is not in tune with his wishes."

Right on both counts - but he did opt for the decision being delayed until the end of April, which didn't happen.

When the America's Cup Class was changed from the 12 Metre class to the International America's Cup Class, Dennis Conner - king of the 12 Metres, was asked about the move. His response was philosophical: "What is good for the Cup is usually good for Dennis".

There is little doubt that the Cup going back into Europe for just its second multi-challenger selection series is a highly popular choice - in Europe.

Very few of those who have commentated on the America's Cup over the past four years have actually seen an AC75 sailing with their own eyes, let alone seen a race. The same comment applies to Bermuda, with only a handful of sailing media covering the 2017 and 2021 Cups.

Hopefully, they will get out from behind their screens or away from the chatter of the media centre and tell what they see rather than what they've been fed.

Same too for the fans who will be in Barcelona, in large numbers, if the event is organised properly and is literally off the beach - with big screens available, so it is an easy watch to see the action on the water and cast an eye to the big screen to see the graphics and onboard video.

What is proposed for the 2024 Cup is nothing new - it has been at the Olympics for all the Olympiads we've attended and probably a lot more. Rio2016 is perhaps the closest to Barcelona2024 if the delivery lives up to the hype.

There was a big white sandy beach in Rio, with plenty of standing and sitting areas and big screens scattered around. The ambience was undoubtedly there, with the sailors coming into the beach after the Medal Race.

The nearest the Cup has got to this fan nirvana was San Francisco - for the simple reason that the racing could be guaranteed to take place in the same patch of water each day.

Bermuda almost got there, but fans only got close to the actual finish line, and for the rest of the racing, it was viewing at a distance or on the big screen.

Auckland promised much but didn't really deliver. The planned Stadium Course "C" between North Head and Rangitoto was used only once in the America's Cup itself.

During the America's Cup World Series, it did come into play for two days and four days in the Prada Cup. It certainly tested the crews when used, and there were plenty of lead changes. On the other courses, the race was pretty well over at the start unless one of the crews had a foiling disaster.

That possibility should be reduced for Barcelona2024, given the Version 2 AC75 class is now lighter by 1000kgs than its predecessor. Foiling at the bottom end of the wind range should be more easily achieved.

Additionally, the teams will have a lot more practice in the AC75's than in the COVID-shortened run-up to the 2021 America's Cup, which had two preliminary America's Cup World Series events cancelled.

The four entries in the last America's Cup only raced together for three days just four weeks before the Prada Cup, aside from several days of Practice Sessions - which mainly were starts and part-races.

The Kiwis even had one Practice Session to themselves on one memorable day in 20kts, when they really opened the throttles.

But fantasise all you like; nobody knows what Barcelona will really bring.

New Zealand is the big loser from the decision to take the opportunity of a home defence offshore.

The situation is not surprising given that the team has been dragged backwards through a blackberry bush by the NZ Government, Auckland Council and most of the mainstream media.

Those antics started soon after the Kiwis won in Bermuda, and the very public debate started over base location options. It became obvious that the panjandrums, used to dealing with a World controlling body, did not understand that Emirates Team New Zealand had complete control over THEIR event.

The 2021 America's Cup came within an ace of going to the alternate venue, and team boss Grant Dalton was in Italy to make that announcement when there was a late change of plan for Auckland.

The media campaign that was conducted against the team and its principals over claimed financial wrong-doing was hugely damaging to an America's Cup team operating in a commercial sponsorship market. While a subsequent audit investigation cleared the team, much of the media mud stuck.

Hostilities resumed as soon as the team crossed the finish line to win the America's Cup for the fourth time. Instead of being a celebration of a glorious win, the very entitled mainstream media storylines that night were all about how the Cup could be headed offshore.

It was no surprise that the exclusive three month negotiation period between Team, Council and Government broke up without an agreement. The cash Event Hosting Fee of $31million was $9million less than that paid for the 2021 Cup. It was an offer that was sure to be declined.

It is partially correct to claim that amount was all the Government had given other claims at the time. But it soon became apparent that the NZ economy was recovering much more quickly than expected and that the Government accounts would be back in surplus by the year of the Cup, 2024.

Further, one doesn't have to read too widely to find stories of many millions of Government money being written off as pet projects slowly topple. The $50million spent on preliminary studies into a near-$1billion dollar, and now canned, harbour bridge cycleway is a case in point.

The Government ordered report on the 2021 America's Cup came out with the claim, using a new basis of economic analysis, that the event only returned .58c in the $1 invested. That didn't sit well alongside Bermuda, with PriceWaterhouseCoopers calculating that the event conducted just four years earlier returned $5 for every $1 invested.

No recognition was given to the Opportunity Costs of the COVID response and their impact on the 2021 America's Cup. Like the $300million of superyacht refit lost when 110 vessels were effectively refused entry in the name of COVID. Or the international visitors and America's Cup who were not allowed through the NZ border. The business lost through domestic spending in the hospitality industry through the various lockdowns - of which there were two during the Cup.

While it is easy to argue over "lives being saved," that is not the point. Some recognition has to be given to the Opportunity Cost of the Cup sanctions - so that when a decision is made on the next event, there is some certainty about the revenue brought in by the event and what it would have earned.

Further, where is the plan to revive the downtown Auckland area, which would have received a huge and very needed boost from a Cup hosting - given that the teams for the 2024 America's Cup will be set up at the venue for 12 months, not the 4-6months of the last Cup?

It's a fair bet that, given the hundreds of millions spent on business revival and support packages, that an America's Cup in Auckland in just over two years would have reduced this spend.

There is little evidence that the Government worked collaboratively with the team to develop a package that worked for everybody.

The upshot is that the Cup has gone to Barcelona. The other takeout is that a benchmark price has been set for the hosting of €75million (NZ$120million).

Like Warnie, it is most unlikely that the Cup will be back - not unless there is a change of thinking from City Hall.

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