Kiwi syndicate puts forward plan to host potentially lucrative qualifying regatta in Auckland but council backing will be crucial. Dana Johannsen reports
Auckland Council's major events funding body is interested in working with Team New Zealand to secure hosting rights for the America's Cup Qualifying regatta ahead of the challenger finals and 35th Cup match in Bermuda.
America's Cup organisers revealed this week they had received a "serious proposal" from the Kiwi syndicate to host a "major event or events" in the lead-up to the big show in Bermuda in 2017.
Emirates Team New Zealand have been reluctant to discuss the details of that bid, pointing to commercial sensitivities.
Given Team NZ's continued involvement in the America's Cup now looks to hinge on securing the hosting rights for the key pre-regatta, their caution around revealing their plans is understandable.
With the Government making it plain they do not see any leveraging opportunitiess in Bermuda, Team NZ boss Grant Dalton hinted their business case for further taxpayer money will focus on the potential economic benefits from hosting the month-long event in early 2017.
"As a pre-eminent country of the America's Cup and a country that understands it more than any other country, bringing the racing here - which wouldn't be able to happen without this organisation's existence - I think is a pretty big drawcard," said Dalton
But staging an event of that scale would require support from various Auckland Council agencies - the net result being even more public funds being poured into Team NZ.
Brett O'Riley, chief executive of Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed), said his organisation was made aware Team NZ would be pursuing the opportunity to host the America's Cup qualifiers, slated for early 2017, but he had yet to receive any formal proposal. "If we can manage to secure a challenger series here, that's something that we certainly would be very interested in," said O'Riley.
"But like all these things it comes down to running the numbers and seeing if they stack up."
Ateed previously conducted feasibility studies on hosting a round of the America's Cup World Series, sailed in the smaller AC45 catamarans, during the last America's Cup cycle, but the high hosting fee was considered prohibitive.
However the World Series rounds only ran for five days and O'Riley believes the cup qualifiers will create a lot more leveraging opportunities.
The qualifying regatta, which was a controversial addition to the cup programme, will determine the top four challengers to progress through to the America's Cup "play-offs" in Bermuda, for a chance to meet defenders Oracle Team USA.
There are five challengers signed up - Team NZ, Luna Rossa (Italy), Artemis (Sweden), Ben Ainslie Racing (Great Britain) and Team France - with two more said to be pending according to the America's Cup Events Authority. Oracle Team USA also has the right to compete in the series, in which the winner will take through one point to the Cup match.
Given the high stakes surrounding the regatta, the teams would likely base themselves in Auckland over the summer of 2016/17 to train and develop their boats ahead of the event, providing a significant boost to the local economy.
"A full blown challenger series for the new class is much different. I think they were talking about having the teams down here for about three months, which is obviously very significant if you look at the money that Team New Zealand [and] Luna Rossa paid in GST for the 34th America's Cup," said O'Riley.
For local government authorities, part of the appeal of investing in such an event is the potential for it to speed up waterfront revitalisation projects that would otherwise be left on the backburner.
"What we know about an event like the America's Cup is that last time we hosted it in Auckland, it significantly added to the amenity of the city and let's face it we wouldn't have the Viaduct Harbour, which was a precursor to the Wynyard Quarter development, if it hadn't have been for the America's Cup," said O'Riley.
"Between cruise ships, super yachts, the port and other activity we have a very busy waterfront, so it might create the opportunity to revitalise areas along the waterfront."
Given the backlash against Team NZ over the high level of government funding, news the syndicate may also seek money from Auckland ratepayers to host the qualifying regatta may not go down well.
O'Riley said the bulk of the costs to stage the event will need to be covered by commercial sponsorship and private funding.