Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Yachting: Bringing Mug home would end cost debate, says adviser

Emirates Team New Zealand managing director Grant Dalton. Photo / Natalie Slade
Emirates Team New Zealand managing director Grant Dalton. Photo / Natalie Slade

When the Government announced they'd be chipping in $36 million to get Dean Barker and his crew on the startline in San Francisco, there were howls of protest across the country, with many believing it was time New Zealand abandoned their quest for the America's Cup once and for all.

But yachting commentator Peter Lester believes the country can't afford not to be involved with the America's Cup.

"The knock-on effects are huge," he says. "People always say we can no longer afford to be in the game. I don't think we can afford not to be in the game."

Lester says the benefits for the country by far outstrip the money the Government has invested.

As a business, the America's Cup has proved lucrative for New Zealand - never more so than over the last three-year cycle, with the super-fast, high-tech catamarans in this year's regatta showcasing the talent and skill of our marine industry.

Team New Zealand cites examples of companies that have survived and flourished during the global economic crisis due to the business they've had thrown their way.

There's Cookson Boats, who say they would have had to shut their doors had they not been involved with two major Team New Zealand projects - building their Volvo round the world entry Camper, and then winning the contract to build major components of its AC72. Then there's the Salthouse Boatbuilders of Greenhithe, recently taking its fifth order for the 14m catamaran RIB Team New Zealand commissioned for their chase boat to keep up with their super-fast AC72. Or at the other end of the scale, Trimac Machining - a small six-man operation in Onehunga - that produced components from titanium, aluminium and plastic.

It's not only Team New Zealand's business the industry has benefited from. With the Kiwi syndicate sharing their design of their first boat with Luna Rossa, much of the componentry for the Italian team's boat was also built in New Zealand. Oracle also had a significant portion of their boat built in Warkworth.

But for every example of a New Zealand-owned company that has been able to remain afloat in uncertain times, detractors of the move will offer numerous examples of where $36 million would be better off spent: the Christchurch rebuild for one, or providing food for the thousands of kids going to school hungry, or towards providing life-saving medical equipment in our hospitals.

While Emirates Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton is confident Team New Zealand has delivered the tax-payer bang for their buck, he accepts there will be many out there who will remain unconvinced.

"Whether we have or haven't, there will always be a significant element that would say it's not worth it," he says. "Honestly, that's a fight I can never win - I can't change people's minds if they think it's a waste of money, and that's fine."

Others are prepared to fight that battle for him. Bob Field, the former chief executive of Toyota New Zealand, and long-serving adviser to the Kiwi syndicate, points out the money came from Trade and Enterprise New Zealand's budget - it has not been taken away from the health or education sectors as some like to argue.

Field also claims it has been a "cost neutral" investment for the Government, with the income tax alone the team has paid over the last three years covering the initial investment.

But the real pay-off, Field says, will be if Team New Zealand bring the cup back to Auckland, and with it the massive spin-off effects that would come with hosting the next event.

We examined where Larry Ellison's plans to host the most spectacular sailing event ever all came unstuck and how Team New Zealand's future hinges on winning the America's Cup in San Francisco this year.

- NZ Herald

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