15 Jun 2021

Critical meeting underway over next host of America's Cup

From Checkpoint, 5:24 pm on 15 June 2021

A critical meeting on Tuesday night could decide whether all hope for the next America's Cup on home waters is sunk.

Team NZ boss Grant Dalton is selling his vision for the race to the Royal NZ Yacht Squadron, behind closed doors at their headquarters.

It could include taking the challenge offshore - potentially to Europe - with a one-on-one race against the British team INEOS.

On Thursday, the three month exclusive negotiation period for the government and Team NZ to agree on hosting arrangements expires.

Professor of Sailing at AUT Mark Orams told Checkpoint Dalton will be saying more money is needed for Team NZ to defend the America’s Cup at home. He said Dalton will argue what is on offer from the government, Auckland Council and sponsorships will not be enough.

"What he'll be presenting to them, I think, is an alternative which allows the team to stay together and be competitive.

"That alternative will be some variant on taking either an aspect of the next America's Cup offshore or some of the lead-up series as well.

"So he's going to have to convince the squadron members that this is the best option that he's been able to come up with.

"I think the vast majority of the members will be adamantly opposed to any proposal to take the Cup away from New Zealand and Auckland because the major motivation for the formation of Team NZ in the first place, back in the 1990s and subsequent challenges, has been to get the Cup to come to Auckland, New Zealand.

"The squadron membership have been highly invested in that, as have the wider New Zealand public, so they'll find out any proposal to take the next America's Cup away from Auckland a very, very difficult thing to stomach. However, what Grant Dalton will point out is that we have a very important lesson we must remember, and that's 2003.

"We were not able to retain our successful team from 2000. We lost many of those important team members to international challengers. They came down here and took the Cup away.

"So Dalton will be very conscious of history not repeating itself here and reminding the squadron that for us to be able to be successful in keeping the next America's Cup, New Zealand's Cup, he needs to have a team that can be competitive. That means he needs to find a way to get the money in to keep the team competitors.

"It's quite a tricky balancing act because Team NZ is actually a privately-owned professional sports team, a little bit like the New Zealand Warriors or the Breakers. But of course we have all been asked to invest in Team NZ, not just financially as taxpayers and ratepayers but emotionally as well.

"The name of the team itself is one that's patriotic and brings in connotations of belonging and a sense of it being our team. So it's going to be very difficult for the New Zealand public to accept a proposal that would take the cup away from New Zealand.

"What I think Grant Dalton will be putting on the table tonight, and we'll hear subsequently about it over the coming days, is a hybrid proposal where he's able to generate enough funding to keep the team together and keep it competitive, but also to guarantee that we will be able to host an event in Auckland in the future.

"So I suspect that what Grant has been working through is a way where we can have those two very difficult things brought together.

"One, how do we have a team that can stay competitive so that it can potentially successfully defend the Cup? Two, how can we actually ensure that we have an opportunity to host this event here in Auckland in the future and all the benefits that come from it."

The final call on what happens depends on the agreement signed between the Royal NZ Yacht Squadron and Team NZ.

"If that agreement, which would have been signed quite some time ago, cedes the decision-making authority to Team NZ, then it's very difficult for the squadron to actually challenge that."

Orams said unfortunately it could end up a battle between lawyers.

"The America's Cup has sometimes been characterised as a years' long legal fight with the odd yacht race thrown in between, and unfortunately this could shape up to another legal battle and not just with regard to the Royal NZ Yacht Squadron and Team NZ.

"But of course if what Grant Dalton is proposing is an exclusive America's Cup in England between Team New Zealand and INEOS Team UK, I suspect that other challengers like the American Magic challenge out of New York Yacht Club and of course Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli, they will not be happy and will not accept that. And we'll see them line their lawyers up as well."

Orams said Dalton has a hard job, leading the team against other challengers funded by billionaires "the likes of which New Zealand has not got".

"He is trying to put together enough money, and it's a lot of money, more than any other New Zealand professional sporting team would be able to put together, to try and ensure he can keep Team NZ together and stop and Alinghi fiasco that we saw in 2003."

Orams believes the exclusive negotiation period with the government will now be essentially dead in the water.

"There's only a few days to run on it, and the fact that we had some public statements from both Phil Goff the Auckland Mayor and from Stuart Nash as the Minister for the Americas Cup a couple of weeks ago, pretty much indicating that I would be very surprised if since those public statements things have been turned around."