It’s the news that no-one wants to hear. And it’s the biggest threat to this America’s Cup. Reports coming in that a woman in New Zealand has tested positive for Covid-19, despite completing the mandatory quarantine and testing negative twice before being allowed out into the community, is a hammer blow. The possibility of a new national lockdown is being looked at in government and whether this affects top level sport is unclear. The sailing world and the legions of new fans that are glued to the broadcast of these fabulous AC75’s will be willing a positive outcome. A decision is expected on Monday.
From afar, Auckland is paradise city. Its population living a life that most in the rest of the world dream of. In the AC microphones are shared on stage, handshakes are offered, crews hug each other after wins and console after loss. Teams work collaboratively in small office spaces and sheds and the America’s Cup village throngs with spectators lounging around the big screens to support their crew, supping a beer whilst the kids scream adorned in face-paint of national colours. I can’t even begin to say how alien it looks to us from afar. It’s a utopian vision and the result of progressive, organised government tackling the situation head-on in typical Kiwi fashion. In short, I would love to be there. And I hope, beyond hopes, that the latest outbreak is contained rapidly – you don’t want the alternative.
But on a brighter note, the Covid situation has produced an unlikely new sponsor for Team New Zealand. And if you’ve got teenage kids, then inadvertently there is every chance that you have become an unwitting sponsor of the team too. I know I have.
Gabe Newell is the American billionaire owner of Steam, a gaming distribution channel, and after sheltering in New Zealand from Covid back in August, decided to stay rather than return to Seattle. He has loved the country so much, as we all do, that back in October he decided to apply for residency alongside trying to throw the mother of all parties as a thank you called: “We love Aoteroa” – sadly the event didn’t go ahead due to restrictions.
Instead, Gaben as he’s nicknamed due to his email address sticking, has invested in Team New Zealand which is a punchy call with an American challenge in situ that he describes as “taking too long to reach out.” Grant Dalton didn’t and bingo, more money to swell the defence coffers.
And futhermore, Team New Zealand signed up a partnership deal this week with China Sports Industry Group but more specifically the Group’s subsidiary China Sports & Communication International. This is massive. It’s a distribution deal to get the AC beamed into millions of Chinese homes via the AC.com channel and crucially the Chinese networks including Bytedance, Tencent, Huya and Penguin Sport. There’s also talk for the future of sponsoring youth AC teams and generally revving up interest that the foiling AC75s can generate.
You see where this is all going. Grant Dalton has a vision way beyond this America’s Cup and whilst the purists will it not to be so, what he is recognising is that media consumption and the habits of the young are changing. The sport is changing and it has to. I prefer to think that it’s evolving and in 20 years time, the kids of today will be running the roost. Fantastic.
As a parent I can get a feel of what this is going to look like. Technology is advancing so fast, so digitally, that it’s unstoppable. Covid has accelerated the revolution that was already underway. Sports that don’t change will suffer. And it makes the New York Yacht Club and Costa Smeralda’s desire to put the boats back in the water and stop the foiling generation look like a blue blazered roar of the dinosaurs.
Dalton, an admitted technophobe who you would guess would far rather be tinkering under the bonnet of an old Mustang up to his guts in engine oil, has the will and vision combined with the platform to recognise that a new era is coming. Signing the Chinese distribution networks and the godfather of gaming distribution in one week is bordering on genius. Both parties are very welcome additions to the AC fray and we sit back in wonder at what the next chapter with their involvement yields.
So back to the racing and all attention shifts this week to Prada and American Magic. Ineos can bathe in well-earned adulation and relative obscurity from the spotlight. Prada is the one to watch for the fireworks, Magic is the one to watch for the story.
Hopefully on Wednesday, the sounds of the rock-band Queen will herald the re-launch of Patriot. I can almost hear “It’s a kind of Magic” being blared from the base speakers as Terry Hutchinson strides forward to the Patriot splash-down to the opening lines: “One dream, one soul. One prize, one goal.” It will be a tear-inducing moment. Sheer, gutsy teamwork will get the nicest team in the tournament back on the water. I wish them well. What a job.
Prada, at the other end of the nice scale, will be at boiling point. This is the strongest test of their campaign to date. Gone are the nonsense PR words of Sirena claiming that they have the best crew-work and the laughable claim that they have an edge on Team New Zealand. We laughed then. We howl now. It’s turning into a nightmare for the Italians.
Leonardo da Vinci had a famous phrase: “La semplicita e l’ultima sofisticazione” meaning ‘simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.’ And it’s clear that Luna Rossa has over-thought the solutions on the boat. They need to get back to simplicity. The dual helm isn’t working. Spithill and Bruni aren’t clicking – Bruni sounds frustrated calling over the Aussie and it all translates into confusion down the crew. That boat must be horrific to sail on.
Back to basics time now. Jimmy calls the shots and Bruni drives. Or vice versa. Stick some grip tape on the aft deck and let the helms swap side. It’s not ideal and they’re not gold medallists but it’s the best shot Prada has got. And don’t forget, that boat is quick in a straight line. They can’t afford the underperformance any longer. Excuses and theories don’t and won’t cut it.
In the Italian camp as in the whole event, it’s change or suffer the consequences. Frankly, I have more faith in the vision of Grant Dalton and the long-term future of the America’s Cup than I have in the Italians.
An interesting week ahead.
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