Shanghai, Dubai, Goodbye?

What did I say about idle, bored billionaires causing trouble? They can’t help themselves. Give a billionaire two weeks stuck on his superyacht bored out of his mind, like the rest of us, waiting for the Cup to start again and he pretty soon gets sick of the toys, food and company (sounds like Christmas Day), and points his attention elsewhere.

The New Zealand and UK press this Sunday are filled with: “where will the Cup go next” stories and “what the Cup should be.” And it’s great that we have people with deep pockets so invested in keeping the show going. The alternative would be dire. The Cup needs swashbuckling billionaires and it needs endless pots of money. Democracy and levelling the playing field are not the vocabulary of the Cup and if we’re honest, not the vocabulary of billionaires.

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But you really don’t need to be Inspector Jacques Clouseau (the French spelling), to join the dots on where this is all heading and the absolute key to everything is out there in plain sight, every day sailing around the Hauraki Gulf – the AC75 class. Let me start with that.

What we have racing today is a development class of boats. They look spectacular and other-worldly – just what the Cup needs. But if the class continued into another cycle, which it surely must, the next generation of these boats will make the current ones look like combine harvesters. The generation on will be slicker, sharper, better detailed and work better. That’s evolution. That’s what development classes do. Compare an International Moth of Rohan Veal’s era to Paul Goodison’s of today and it’s a different boat. Completely different.

But the key is that this boat concept can sail anywhere in the world. If the Defenders, whoever that may be, decided to chase the money and opt for Abu Dhabi or Qingdao then no problem with designing the boats to suit the conditions. What we’ve seen in Auckland when the boats go displacement in light winds, is utterly boring. But if the mean wind was 5-8 knots, the boats would de designed for those conditions and be more refined than a Stradivarius violin. They would be epic yachts that would probably disintegrate in 18 knots of breeze but in the lower wind ranges would still be capable of punching out eye-watering speeds. In short, this design is versatile. And it’s exciting.

©KOS Picture Source / www.kospictures.com

So now we have a class of boat that can race anywhere in the world, the options are wide open for the Defending yacht club to select whatever venue is commercially the best option. Emirates Team New Zealand is the one facing the heat in the media this weekend with the suggestion being that they are hawking around the Cup to other venues and that New Zealand as a country, is a rank outsider to host in 2025. But I would suggest that it’s a situation that the British and the Italians are also faced with. Whoever wins has got a problem. If Team Ineos win, where are they going to host it in the UK that has not only the infrastructure but the political will and support? Same for Italy – perhaps Sardinia would be the perfect place but with a post pandemic economic crisis in Europe, both the Brits and Italians would find support to throw millions of dollars their way at a government or local level met with massive resistance. You had your fun in the sun in Auckland, don’t for one second think that taxpayers will be supportive when you bring the ugly ewer home. It’s a different world now. That’s the stark reality.

And for Emirates Team New Zealand, the probable winners, they face largely the same problems for the next regatta with the added onus of trying to encourage more competitors to come to the party. The Kiwi public have been magnificent in their support of this regatta and they deserve to reap every benefit possible from New Zealand being seen on the world stage as a progressive, vibrant, intelligent, get-stuff-done country. Truly they are the one nation that woke up early to the pandemic, made changes, sealed their borders and carried on as usual. New Zealand has offered a vision to the world of what good looks like. But is it sustainable through to 2025? Is the will there? It’s hard for a British writer to understand after 170 years of not having the Cup, that some people would wish it away. But that’s a reality in New Zealand. And whether ETNZ can tap the government again for taxpayer’s money is highly debatable and contentious.

©KOS Picture Source / www.kospictures.com

So now we do dot-to-dot and it’s not hard to see that a Plan B is forming. Emirates, the airline company, is a subsidiary of The Emirates Group owned by the Government of Dubai’s Investment Corporation of Dubai. It has been a long-time supporter of Team New Zealand as it makes investments for the very long term on the back of petro-dollars and a desire by the regime to legitimise itself globally and try to shift away from oil revenues in preparation for that day, that is fast arriving, when the carbon economy ends. They’ve done it with everything from art to sports to business and are creating a playground of pleasure, a modern-day cultural utopia. Hosting a Cup in the United Arab Emirates would do just nicely, thank you very much.

And then there’s the deal with the Chinese, with Team New Zealand bringing onboard the China Sports Industry Group who principally, according to Bloomberg, “are involved in the development and sales of property, construction and operation of sports stadiums and sports facilities. ” So if the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and Emirates Team New Zealand won the Cup and decided the 1.4 billion people market of China was a deal worth pursuing, then the China Sports Industry Group could probably rustle up ten bases in, let’s say, a couple of months. They could probably also throw in a satellite RNZYS clubhouse, a vast media centre and a Cup village in less time than it takes to apply for a New Zealand, UK or Italian government grant. It’s compelling. And they’d more than likely support two or three home teams and the sponsorship opportunities to access mainland China would be compelling enough to attract a whole host of corporates to the party.

Plus the photos would be utterly stunning…

©KOS Picture Source / www.kospictures.com

But don’t label this just on Team New Zealand. If the Brits or Italians won, they will be having exactly the same discussions. Jim Ratcliffe is keen on the Cup becoming Formula 1 on water – I would argue that it already is from a technical standpoint – but it doesn’t have the travelling circus and global reach that he would like to see. Could we see an America’s Cup global series? In more straitened times, yes. But now, probably not. And for Prada, an event in the Middle East or Asia would be perfect. Europe is a tiny market in comparison. A creative epicentre yes, but the real money is in those countries with a youthful demographic that spends on fashion.

Commercially, and rather sadly, it makes sense for the event to travel from New Zealand for the next Cup cycle, gutting as that is to the Kiwi supporters. Whether it goes to Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Shanghai, Qingdao or wherever in the world that offers the most exposure, the most money or the best facilities, it’s a hard pill to swallow for New Zealand. It’s a kick in teeth for a country that has shone the America’s Cup light so, so bright for so long and set the standards at such impossible levels. But I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: money doesn’t talk, it screams.

With the America’s Cup, it’s the old Mark Twain quote that says it all: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” And I have a feeling that we are on the precipice of going into a new era where nothing will ever be the same again. The billionaires are at their most mischievous but there’s a grand plan evolving and it will become searingly obvious as the final curtain goes down at the end of this regatta.

The clues are all there. Just join the dots.

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4 thoughts on “Shanghai, Dubai, Goodbye?

  1. Since Jim Ratcliffe is now a resident of Monaco maybe you should have a word with him about Monaco Yacht Club hosting it if Ineos win… 😎

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  2. These claims of ETNZ shopping the Cup around the globe seems a bit dubious to me. I’ve met a number of people over the years who have been involved with Team NZ, and I have my strong doubts that the team would ever take the finals away from NZ.

    Now, sailing a number of pre-AmCup regattas around the world, which lead into the Auckland based finals, well, that’s another story. Of course Team NZ would be keen to stir up sponsorship benefits for themselves and challengers by getting their sponsor brands into key locations around the world leading up to the finals. Especially if challengers say they will struggle to participate unless they get at least one regatta in a friendly time zone, much less a friendly harbour.

    But some of the claims are just weird. The NZ Herald tipped Qatar as an America’s Cup final destination…… Not likely with the primary sponsor have naming rights on a team called EMIRATES Team New Zealand! Qatar and the UAE are not just separate countries with contesting aviation interests, but in fact have only just restored diplomatic relations after the fallout between numerous Gulf nations and Qatar in early 2017 over terrorism funding! Perhaps if Team NZ was sponsored by Qatar Airways, I might give that rumour more credence! But an Emirates sponsored sports team are as unlikely to go to Qatar as Ineos Team UK would be to ask ELF or Dupont to co-sponsor the sails.

    The NZ Government, irrespective of whether it is National or Labour, will always find money for Team NZ. Yes, there will be the usual dance over “accountability”, “money is tight”, “how many hip operations could be funded instead” and similar, but the NZ public LOVE the cup. In 2013, there were school halls filled with children watching the finals in San Francisco on large projector TVs (and probably lots of teary eyes after that series finished). You don’t get that in other countries.

    In truth, NZ is indisputably one of the consistently top Americas Cup and the premier yachting nations in the world. It brings in soft and hard benefits in promoting NZ as a destination for marine services. It puts NZ on the stage as an innovative winner. Would NZ’s government ever throw away that willingly? And don’t be surprised if NZ Corporates act in concert with Govt agencies to provide the kind of package that saves faced but delivers the cash.

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    1. I hope you’re right. It seems unfair to the tremendous AC fanbase in New Zealand that they would not be able to watch another defense at home if they won. I can understand us silly Americans chasing Oracle out of San Francisco because it isn’t a major sport here, and despite Oracle’s best efforts to build a sailing fanbase in the US, it was and is still quite small (although growing), but NZ has the kind of fanbase for the AC that every other organizer wishes they could have.

      For the sake of my antipodean friends, I hope NZ is free of this kind of American-style stupidity.

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