Murray Stott: Govt, Team NZ badly missed boat

A business plan could have given syndicate a funding base for another Cup campaign, says Murray Stott

It may be tough for the Government write a blank cheque for what is largely an elitist sport. Photo / Brett Phibbs
It may be tough for the Government write a blank cheque for what is largely an elitist sport. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Nobody can deny the level of excitement and national pride the 34th America's Cup delivered when our team was on a winning streak. The regatta invoked a wave of anticipatory contagion and a platform of profound global exposure of Kiwi can-do capability for our marine industry.

And, for a team from such a small country to even enter the $100 million race, much less become the final challenger in an event where physics, skill and indeed money all have salient parts to play, is remarkable by any measure.

Where the whole thing falls flat, though, is that there was no visible Plan B; only a Plan A predicated on a win. This, one can understand. However, any good business model would have had a Plan B.

For example, Formula 1 motor racing teams often lose both the races and the championship. British F1 teams come and go over the years, yet all Formula 1 cars are built in Britain, regardless. New Zealand's maritime industry could compare to that, given Oracle was built in Warkworth.

The industry is said to be worth $700 million a year and was postulated to achieve $1.3 billion a year had we won the Auld Mug. Would it therefore not have been prudent to have ensured a viable Plan B was in place, given that the taxpayers' initial investment of $36 million plus the top up of $4 million during the regatta, the lead sponsor's $53 million and the industry's projected extra $600 million, were all riding on the outcome.

Surely the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, which has a major events unit, would have prepared a business plan?

Such a plan would have identified as a barrier to entry the fact that after each regatta the question of ongoing funding arises; and, in the interim, global players cherry pick the best sailors.

Whereas, if a viable Plan B was in place with the requisite funding in the bag, we would sail a much stronger-funded race from day one.

Had the ministry and the marine industry launched, say, a Team New Zealand bond issue six months out from the regatta, it could have attracted contributors at all levels.

Several global billionaires would, I'm sure, have relished the opportunity to rain on Mr Ellison's parade and invest in multiples of upwards of $10 million bonds; while the local mums and dads would have happily invested in $1000 bonds during those early victorious rounds; another way of pulling those red socks up still further.

International sponsorship has become more constrained since the global financial crisis; several major players have now reached their near-term saturation or have established channels that mean they are less likely to commit to such levels of sponsorship.

For example, a sponsor would now be more inclined to invest in incentives to enhance their yield (bums on seats), rather than top-of-mind car or sail platforms.

As Emirates already fly here, would they be more likely to invest say a more cost-effective $10-$15 million in promoting their local or loyal customer base rather than the reported $53 million in Team New Zealand?

Conceivably, it would be a very hard call for the Government, leading into an election year, to write a blank cheque for what is, at the end of the day, only an elitist sport, in which all the major players own multimillion-dollar properties and the like, when affordable housing and thousands of children going hungry are more pressing issues.

When questioned about the likelihood of the Government's support continuing, a rather ambivalent Economic Development Minister, Steven Joyce, offered only platitudes along the lines of: we will look at it.

This is the very style of indecision that would drive those looking for work to sign-up offshore.

Clearly, Mr Joyce has acknowledged the value of spending the $4 million of taxpayers' money during the regatta by sending legions of bureaucrats to San Francisco for a jolly. He also noted that we had wined and dined 7000 people of influence we only gained access to by virtue of our Cup involvement.

The opportunity to maximise the leverage of this platform was lost by the ministry's failure to offer either a bond or other form of investment on the spot.The only time to sell such propositions is prior to or during the regatta to capitalise on the moment, as it were.

The America's Cup is relevant to less than 15 per cent of Americans and the global exposure through TV is a very short window of two weeks or so, after years of development and training.

Not to have a viable Plan B such as a bond issue in place before the end of the regatta is clearly a case of missing the boat.

Murray Stott is a trademark agent, brand consultant and sponsorship broker.

- NZ Herald

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