Goodbye America’s Cup, it’s been fun

Published on June 16th, 2021

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
There is so much we can point to Ernesto Bertarelli. This Italian-born Swiss billionaire businessman took the America’s Cup from a historic competition to a showcase of possibility.

By pirating the Kiwi camp of their talent, free agency went next level as Bertarelli organized his Alinghi team which went on to win the 2003 America’s Cup. A new standard of payroll was created which has escalated to now unsustainable heights.

With Alinghi representing the Société Nautique de Genève, its Swiss lake venue needed an alternative site to host their defense. Never before had the America’s Cup gone out to bid, further increasing the cost expected from government.

The 2007 America’s Cup in Valencia was a massive success, attracting more teams than before, providing perhaps the closest racing ever, and creating a profit that was shared with all teams. There was now a commercial expectation for the oldest international sporting trophy.

And when Bertarelli overplayed his hand after winning again in 2007, opening the door for another billionaire, Larry Ellison, to drag the Cup through the New York Courts, the event has gone from a proud sailing trophy to an entertainment spectacle.

Ellison enlisted Golden Gate Yacht Club as his puppet organization, filling board seats with employees to ensure no opposition to his plans of converting the competition into a broadcast product. When San Francisco overpaid for the privilege to host in 2013, the event was shopped again, but not out of need but greed.

After Bermuda 2017, with Ellison’s defeat, I could see that classic movie cliché, the unflinching walk from the explosion without looking back.

So off we go to Auckland 2021 with ever increasing expectations. Boats must be fast (expensive), teams must master rare technology (expensive), and venues must be extravagant (expensive). If it wasn’t for the history of the event, it would be easy not to care.

There was optimism that New Zealand’s successful challenge in Bermuda was a win for the event, but all they did was push the envelope further, requiring rare design and sailing skill that limited entry. While the event only needs two teams to compete, it needs closer to Valencia-level participation to pay the bills.

While the pandemic did the Kiwis no favors in their successful 2021 defense, the team is now struggling to sustain themselves.

With Team New Zealand having concluded an exclusive negotiation period with their Government, and not getting the hosting fee they hoped, they are now free to shop the event. The defender claims that doesn’t necessarily mean the 37th America’s Cup will be moved from Auckland, but it does mean they hope so.

Said New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke, after the team rejected the Government’s $99 million package, offered this view:

“This is sad news for America’s Cup fans, but good news for taxpayers and Auckland ratepayers. We just saved 99 million NZD. That money can now go to more deserving causes: Pharmac, Police, nurses, roads, debt repayment, or even tax relief that puts food on the tables of hard-working New Zealanders.”

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who was such a force while navigating her country during COVID-19, says the Government put their “best foot forward” in the combined bid with Auckland Council to host the next America’s Cup.

Arden, eager for the America’s Cup to remain in New Zealand, urged Kiwis to tell Team New Zealand how they feel about the Auld Mug potentially being defended overseas.

“Make your voice heard. There are still negotiations being had, and if you feel really strongly about this in the same we did, let the team know.”

Asked if there was room for the 99 million NZD bid to go higher, Ardern responded that wasn’t the point.

“At some point, we have to say we can’t justify investment beyond that for the taxpayer. We have to make a call about where that line exists. I could not hand on heart stand here in front of you and say that it would have been good value for money for New Zealanders to go beyond where we have. So I wouldn’t do it.”

And so Auckland, possibly, joins the growing list of one-and-done cities during the post- Bertarelli era. Goodbye America’s Cup, it was fun while we had you.

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