Harken Derm

America’s Cup: A New Zealand Soap Opera

Published on June 24th, 2014

by Richard Gladwell, New Zealand editor, Sail-World
The current brouhaha running in New Zealand over the America’s Cup may externally look a mess, but the current NZ America’s Cup team is going through the transition phrase that always occurs at this stage of the AC cycle. This one is a lot more public.

The reason for the intense public interest and debate is because the America’s Cup and New Zealand Challenge/Team New Zealand enjoy a massive public profile, typified in the 2013 AC by pulling the largest TV audience for any sporting event in the broadcast in New Zealand ever. Over 20% of the New Zealand population are reported to have watched the races at their peak. To emphasise, that is over 20% of the NZ population, not the available viewing audience, in other words about 1million viewers of a population of 4.4million.

The reason for the high profile of the sport is because for the almost 30 years of AC involvement there has always been a live TV broadcast with Television NZ, the dominant broadcaster in NZ. We are now into at least two generations of Kiwis having grown up with the America’s Cup and who understand many of the nuances of the AC game. The America’s Cup seems to span the ages and genders more than any other sport – hence its large and diverse following.

Being able to pull those rating levels and demographic gives the America’s Cup a high media profile and fan following, in New Zealand, regardless of whether there is racing or not. The media organisations understand this and realise that America’s Cup stories repeatedly pull a big audience, even out of season. The current out of season, “stories” and public attention are ratings driven, regularly featuring on the newspaper front pages, and as lead stories in the prime time TV news.

The characters, past and present, of the New Zealand America’s Cup saga continue to attract the spotlight on the centre-stage of public and news interest. They are national characters and icons. Household names, no introduction needed. Good or bad, like them or hate them, and must be seen in that light. In New Zealand, the America’s Cup is a soap opera in the very best meaning of that term. It encompasses the very best of what people can achieve, much more than the worst. The America’s Cup brand is also perceived as being the gold-standard of technology. That has real value to sponsors and suppliers.

With the current moves towards the Commercial Cup, maybe the free to air TV model, giving away rights on the basis of providing the maximum audience and reach, will do more for the event – and lift participation and fan interest in the long term – more so than the pursuit of the monetary rights model.

The characters in the America’s Cup soap opera are not just confined to New Zealand. Dennis Conner was oft-attributed with doing what no New Zealand politician had been able to do – unite the New Zealand public.

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