The new rules are diabolical, the venue is of little value to us, but if Auckland can stage a dress rehearsal of the next America's Cup, it could be worth another Government grant to Team New Zealand. The team have replaced Dean Barker with a new hand on the helm and seem to be gearing up again with an event to offer Auckland. The details of the event may not be known until the Government is ready to announce its response, but it needs to be a regatta that matters.
The 2017 America's Cup in Bermuda will be a contest of 62-foot (19m) catamarans, smaller than the 72-foot foiling monsters at San Francisco, with a qualifying series in 45-foot multihulls. Hosting the qualifier would mean that all the syndicates would set up here during the summer of 2016-17 and we would have the mouth-watering prospect of the lighter, faster hulls racing on their foils and wing-sails in the harbour.
With enough promotion, the series might attract a wider audience. It will feature the defender, Oracle Team USA, as well as the challengers, of which there are five confirmed: Emirates Team NZ, Team France, Luna Rossa (Italy), Artemis (Sweden) and Ben Ainslie Racing (Great Britain). The winner of the qualifying series will take one point into the cup proper.
The Government has given clear indications that New Zealand will need to host the series if public money is to be put into another America's Cup challenge. Even then, Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce has warned, it is likely to be "significantly less" than the $36 million the taxpayer contributed to the last campaign. Bermuda in the Atlantic is not as accessible as San Francisco or San Diego from New Zealand's point of view. It would be harder for business in this country to use a Bermuda event for promotions and making contacts.
But if the qualifying series is to be a semblance of the real thing, it offers exciting possibilities and it would not be a surprise if Team NZ get the $36 million they seek. They had to beat a bid from Sydney and it cannot have been easy to get other challengers to agree to any event in this part of the world. The European syndicates face the added costs of bringing their operations here for up to three months before returning to the Atlantic.
The cost, in time lost shipping their boats as well as financial expense, will not be faced by Team NZ and may be seen as an advantage. If so, it is the first break the team have received since their heart-breaking reversal at San Francisco. Until the venue for the next regatta was announced, sponsors could not be confirmed and the Government offered no more than $5 million to keep the organisation afloat. It wanted to see a business case for the Bermuda event before contributing more.
The benefits of bringing even a preliminary series to Auckland go well beyond viewing pleasure. It helps keep much of the America's Cup industry here. Boatbuilding, sail design and components made here are part of the Cup. The organisers have gone out of their way to keep NZ in the event and the Government surely now will chip in.