Expense is the main reason there are so few challengers in the next America's Cup, says Emirates Team New Zealand head Grant Dalton - not the oft-blamed world economy.
"It's too damned expensive," he said. "Oracle have talked about the Cup being cheaper but it is 20 per cent more expensive than last time."
Only Emirates Team New Zealand, Swedish-based Artemis and Luna Rossa have challenged with time dwindling fast for teams to pay up, build and race an America's Cup boat. The main culprit is the cost of the multi-hull yachts being used in an America's Cup regatta for the first time - with 45-foot AC45 yachts being used in a World Series ahead of challengers being asked to compete in 72-foot AC72 catamarans complete with a complex wing sail.
"It is a very, very tricky thing [to build and race an AC72] and it probably scared off the Russians, for example, and maybe other teams as well. I mean, there are three billionaires and us [ETNZ is the only challenger to have won commercial sponsorship to race in the next regatta; all the other teams are being supported by wealthy backers]. I guess that makes it clear how viable it is."
Dalton said the world economy actually made it easier to gain sponsorship: "I guess it sounds a little counter-intuitive but when we got out there and did a lot of hard work, we found that many high-end sponsors had rationalised their sponsorship portfolio from, say 10 sponsorships to four.
That meant there was still money available - and it was more focused. "I actually had more success in raising money for this Cup than the last one. My suspicion is that we will hear from Oracle now that there are commercial realities afloat in a world economy and they'll blame that - but I don't think that is it."
Dalton also spoke of New Zealand's high profile, especially in Europe, saying that there was a "cool-ness" associated with New Zealand and many companies wanted to be associated with this country.
"New Zealand is cool in Europe and high-end sponsors and brands want to be associated with us. ETNZ is a strong brand in itself and is success-driven, has all the right values, and they like to see that."
The news that there were only three challengers was old hat for ETNZ. They have known for months that was all there was likely to be. The Herald on Sunday, in May last year, predicted that only four might make it to the line after previous Challenger of Record Mascalzone Latino dropped out - Oracle, ETNZ, Artemis and Team China. China now look out of the frame but Luna Rossa became the fourth after completing a joint venture deal with ETNZ covering design and training sharing.
China and Team Korea might still make the US$200,000 Cup entry fee payment due in June this year but Dalton doubts any syndicate - including the two French, the Spanish-Italian entry and undisclosed others - will now have the money and time to build an AC72 and train up to be competitive.
"That's not to say that Larry Ellison [the billionaire bankroller of Oracle] won't wake up one morning and say 'Holy Hell...what's going on?'. They have done deals to get people to build and race AC45s and it's not beyond the realms of possibility they could do the same thing with AC72s."
America's Cup organisers are examining the format of the Louis Vuitton challengers' regatta with just three entries instead of Oracle's expected/desired number of seven to eight. Dalton said it made little difference to ETNZ - "there have always been boats in there to make up the numbers". Organisers were now examining format changes like a best-of-three race against opposing challengers instead of a one-off match race.
Dalton was also phlegmatic about Oracle's recently announced code of conduct for the 13th America's Cup - a document that essentially provides penalties for anyone making statements "prejudicial or detrimental to or against the welfare or the best interests of the America's Cup, or the sport of sailing, or that may impair public confidence in the honest and orderly conduct of the America's Cup, any Event, or in the integrity and good character of any Competitor, Official, selected venue, sponsor or other commercial partner of the America's Cup.
Conduct contrary to the welfare or the best interests of the America's Cup includes, but is not limited to, public statements that unreasonably attack or disparage a regatta related to the America's Cup, an Event, a selected venue, a funder, a sponsor, a commercial partner of the Event or a Competitor, another Competitor, an Official, or the commercial viability or integrity of the America's Cup or any of its regattas or events, but responsible expressions of legitimate disagreement are not prohibited."
The penalties for such a wide-ranging code breach go from censure to loss of points an even expulsion.By Paul Lewis Email Paul