Emirates Team New Zealand may have won the racing, but now the job of hosting America's Cup New Zealand begins, says our columnist Matt Sheahan.
As the saying goes, when you win the Cup you make the rules. The champagne was still running down the outside of the Auld Mug and the sailors still drenched from their Moët moment on stage when Emirates Team New Zealand’s CEO, Grant Dalton, announced that the Challenger of Record would be the Italian yacht club, Circolo della Vela Sicilia, represented by Luna Rossa.
It’s an interesting choice and confirms the gossip that was floating around. It is no secret that the man behind Luna Rossa, or Prada as the team was also called, Patrizio Bertelli, was never that keen on the move to multihulls. Assuming that his position hasn’t changed, this presents a tricky issue for Dalton going forwards as he negotiates the 36th America’s Cup.
The Kiwis set the foiling agenda in the build-up to the last Cup in 2013 by brilliantly identifying and exploiting a loophole in the rule to make their boat fly. By doing so they inspired a new generation of foiling designs that has changed sailing forever and is still expanding today.
They have also proved that they are the current foiling masters. Surely they wouldn’t want to abandon that expertise for the next Cup?
“I think we’ve seen some unbelievable advancements here with the boats and the type of races we’ve seen and it’s great for our sport,” said Kiwi skipper Glenn Ashby. “From a sailing perspective it’s going to be hard to sail anything else after what we’ve seen in these boats. The technology is just absolutely amazing.”
But if their hand is being forced by the Challenger of Record they may have to compromise more than they would like. And then there’s the issue of hosting the show.
Aside from the sporting triumph, you can see why the Kiwis are so excited about winning the Cup. The spotlight is quite rightly on them.
But for what it’s worth I think that the next Cup has to be something different from the last New Zealand event in order to get the best out of it, both for country and sailing.
New Zealand is a wonderful place, but it’s a long way away from the major audiences. It’s expensive to set up camp down there too and from my experience of 2002-03, the potential audience of a country with a population of 4.5 million doesn’t justify the cost.
Since it was last down there the game has moved on considerably and not just with the style of boats. Spectator sailing is now the norm and the AC LiveLine telemetry has brought the event to a much bigger audience. But the show is an expensive one to put on.
Auckland in 2002 cost around $20 million to host. Valencia $200 million, while Bermuda is said to have cost $100 million. But that’s just the show in the Cup year. The build-up in the years before will cost more on top of that.
Defending the Cup is one thing, but hosting the gig costs around the same as running another team.
To make a financial success of the next Cup surely means taking it on tour, another version of the World Series. An Asian circuit one year followed by a European one the next, before the Cup goes down under for the match itself? That way New Zealand gets to show off its trophy to a much bigger market while the backers do too.
That then leads on to the type of boat.
Going on tour like this would surely rule out big monohulls with their huge rigs and deep keels. Multihulls on the other hand fit the bill very well in the performance/size/shipping ratio.
When it comes to racing in a variety of conditions, the high power-to-weight ratio that can be achieved with a foiling cat means that these boats can race and fly in just 6 knots of breeze.
The next stage needs to be creating a rig or configuration that can cope with up to 30 knots and waves. Extending the range of conditions helps keep the show rolling. That keeps the broadcasters and corporates happy which keeps the money coming in.
None of this is new; this has been the goal for more than a decade now. But making big changes in the world’s oldest international sporting trophy takes time. And money.