Flying High

The eternal struggle between money men and creatives will never be solved. It’s as passionate a debate as foiling versus displacement. Money men obsess with ROI – Return on Investment. Creatives see it differently. They see it through an altered lens. An optic of sporting prowess, of politics and intrigue, of swashbucklers and tyrants, of machiavellian deviousness, disaster and triumph. A story to be narrated. A canvas to be painted. The dullards of finance look at the bottom line, the margin, the rights, the deals. In the Cup, money talks louder than a Chinese gambler in Macau and right now it’s the only talk in town.

©Jan Pehrson / www.janpehrson.com

The victory tow-in from a Cup win is a nervy time. The crews look at each other knowing that this is almost certainly the last time they will sail together as a unit. The moment is full of uncertainty right at the moment of certainty – won or lost. And in this Cup, the tow ins, like the one so beautifully captured above by my dear friend Jan Pehrson and by Carlo Borlenghi below, were hauntingly poignant. The winds of change shoreside were certainly blowing harder than the Hauraki Gulf could muster for the Match, and by the end of the tow back to the base, seismic movements had already occurred. The tectonic plate of Challenger of Record had fracked and cracked beneath the Italians. The trap door was pulled on the whim of a signature and Team Ineos was everyone’s new best friend.

Bertelli wants in. Ratcliffe is in. More are waiting in the wings. The Challenger of Record status is a done deal. Team New Zealand has to be in and holds the trophy but the stakes are mighty high and the clock is ticking. The government is not so much as in a corner, it’s over a barrel and two minutes to midnight from being played off the table. The margin call is massive – NZD$50m at least. It’s a stake that most would fold on.

Then the blame game starts. And this is where, in the words of Hunter S. Thompson; “when the going gets weird, the weird get professional.” Governments are black-belts at shifting blame and absolving responsibility. Most politicians add up to zero almost as a mark of success and it gets worse as you go down the scale to local level. Mayors say all the right things with one eye on the popularity vote, but a keener eye on the public finances.

The Cup game now could be beyond New Zealand and that would be a travesty. The bean counters, the money men – remember them – will argue the bottom line to the nth degree like maniacs. Bright minds with the sheen of success will opine wildly. The holidaymakers didn’t come. The superyacht refits were a trickle. The bars did okay…ish. But the overall ROI, hate that term, was lower than expected and that’s the argument to be played out to whoever will listen on every two-bit radio channel and outlet the length and breadth of the land of the long white cloud.

©ACE / Studio Borlenghi

What the beancounters miss in their spreadsheets is the global perspective. And this is where the creatives come in. The story of this Cup was the Kiwi people and the truly remarkable way they supported from every vantage point and cheered like their lives depended on it. The goodwill they generated will last for decades. Personally I have nothing but desire to visit when I can. I’d move there if I could. If a Kiwi wanted to do business with me, I’d not only take the call, I’d spend the first 20 minutes talking about how magnificently they hosted the Cup. I’d be more than happy to conclude a deal – in fact I’d want to do a deal.

New Zealand behaved impeccably and smashed the notion of the little country at the bottom of the world – it led the way. It was a light in a very, very dark global tunnel. And that’s the goodwill that not even NZD$1bn can buy. It’s the goodwill that will last for generations. This Cup changed New Zealand’s profile. If I was in government I would be fighting tooth and nail to keep it in Aotearoa. It’s essential to national pride and to convert on the investment to date. It would be a dereliction of duty to let the Cup go overseas for what is a rounding error in State terms. I have every confidence and hope that a deal is done and the event is turned around quickly – a Cup starting in December 2022 and concluding in March ’23 would be just perfect.

©ACE / Studio Borlenghi

And with the confirmation this morning that Team Ineos is Challenger of Record, an initial outline was laid before us. The AC75s are here for two more Cups – brilliant, forward-looking, spot on and that puts the displacement debate firmly in the long grass. A new nationality rule is tightening up the playing field but crucially allows emerging nations to bend and join. But no word on gender diversity and that’s something that they must, as a matter of upmost importance, address urgently. Why cut out 50% of your potential audience? The 37th edition has to be the time when diversity is front and centre. It’s a dead duck and wrong for the times if it doesn’t.

A single event authority responsible for ALL racing is right and desperately needed. Cost cutting is on the agenda – and my goodness that’s critical but people are still the most costly element of a campaign. So could we see a salary cap? And the confirmation that teams can only build one new boat is an immediate saving but what a headache for the designers. Get that wrong and it’s all over before it has started. No pressure…

But the crucial thing left to discuss is where. Team New Zealand said the right things about the Cup in New Zealand; “The AC75’s and the unprecedented broadcast reach of the exciting racing from Auckland’s stunning Waitemata harbour have really put Auckland and the America’s Cup at the forefront of international sport.” Meanwhile, Team Ineos surreptitiously reminded that the race was first run around the Isle of Wight in 1851.

This is looking like a straight fight – Auckland versus the UK. And either venue would be magnificent. AC75s blasting around Solent waters and showpiece races around the Isle of Wight would be monumental. And mental. Racing in Auckland would be logical and the biggest ‘thank you’ to the wonderful Kiwi people for this event imaginable.

The ball is firmly in the New Zealand government’s court. Do they smash it down the middle or go wide to the tramlines? Bet on a deal at two minutes to midnight and start booking air fares to New Zealand now. The creatives win – again.

4 thoughts on “Flying High

  1. I agree with you that hosting at home (hopefully after exhibition racing in other countries) and having a female participation quota are the things I’m hoping most will be confirmed in the final protocol, but there’s also one more:

    Make the broadcast live and free-to-air in every country, and MEAN it this time, don’t let NBC get away with trying to charge Americans 170 dollars to watch live on their app or two hours later on a TV channel not everyone has. If Americans can watch SailGP and The Ocean Race live on YouTube for free without a VPN, why couldn’t we watch the America’s Cup in the same way like everyone else?

    I’m sure the members of the NYYC can spend 170 dollars like it’s 17 dollars, but if you want the audience for the sport in the USA to be any bigger than that, you can’t be charging such exorbitant fees to watch.

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  2. Oh dear, we are already into the area of lawyerly definitions. What and who is included in “RACE CREW”? Those on the boat? Those who could be on the boat? Those that work on the boat but not on the background support? What is then meant by the boat? What is meant by non boat crew? Shore crew? Who are shore crew and what of those whose roles cross over?

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