Team NZ: Where to from here?

By Dana Johannsen

To stay together they need somebody to come forward with some money now, while the momentum is still there

The Team New Zealand base on Halsey Street. Photo / Dean Purcell.
The Team New Zealand base on Halsey Street. Photo / Dean Purcell.

Back in May, a couple of weeks after Team New Zealand had packed up their operations for San Francisco, I found myself walking around the empty corridors of their abandoned Halsey St base.

During the summer, the base was a bustling hive of activity, full of passionate, energetic people all trying to achieve one thing: to bring the America's Cup back to Auckland. So it was an eerie feeling to see their Auckland home so lifeless - an empty shell with a skeleton staff.

This is now the permanent reality facing the team.

Leading up to the event, managing director Grant Dalton acknowledged that failure to get their hands on the Auld Mug would mean the end of Team NZ. Now that has happened, there are few who are willing to believe that it could actually be the end. Even Oracle Team USA owner Larry Ellison said it was "impossible to conceive" an America's Cup without New Zealand being involved.

But it is equally difficult to see a way forward for Team NZ.

Dalton will almost certainly leave the syndicate. He has said for some time that if the team weren't successful in San Francisco he would step aside and all his comments made in the wake of Team NZ's loss suggest he hasn't changed his mind. No doubt a few people will be trying to twist his arm and convince him to stay. Without Dalton, the team's master fundraiser, mentor and chief stirrer, the driving force is gone.

Sir Michael Fay, who challenged three times for the America's Cup in the late 80s and early 90s, said Dalton possessed the unique mix of sailing nous, business acumen and hard-nosed competitor.

"There's not another person in New Zealand that could have put together this campaign."

Even if Dalton, with his wide network of benefactors and contacts, stays on board, drumming up the money for another campaign will be tough. As Dean Barker said before the Cup, "There's only so many times you can knock on doors and ask to have a crack at it."

The Government's $37 million investment in Team NZ's campaign was a deeply unpopular move at the time, and considered a one-time-only deal.

It remains to be seen whether the Government has changed its mind now there is a groundswell of support behind the team.

But for Team NZ to stay together they need someone to come forward with some money now, while the momentum is still there and before their key personnel are snapped up by other syndicates.

An announcement from Oracle Team USA over what shape the 35th America's Cup might take and their vision for the event is expected in the coming days. There have been a lot of rumours circulating about who the likely challenger of record might be - some say it will be Artemis again, others say it could be Luna Rossa, while some claim Oracle's former nemesis Alinghi have been signed up.

Aside from the money, there's another key factor involved in the decision to challenge again - does the team still have the appetite to carry on in what has been a heartbreaking game for them?

It could be that the cruel loss in San Francisco is still too raw for the team, but the answer seems to be no.

While they have yet to make any official announcements, it's understood the syndicate has committed to doing the 2014/15 Volvo Ocean Race campaign, so they will exist in some form for a few years yet.

But the next edition of the round-the-world race will be sailed in a one-design class, meaning there is no need for a design department any more. The brutal ocean race also demands a different type of sailor and the crew on board Team NZ's Volvo challenge will be very different from the sailors who crewed their super-powered AC72 catamaran.

Over 100 staff were involved with Team NZ's challenge for the 34th America's Cup - it is estimated less than half that will be required for a Volvo campaign.

That's a lot of empty office space in their Halsey St base.

- NZ Herald

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