I don’t know who said it but it stuck in the memory bank: “Even if you give them everything they asked for, it will never be enough.” And in the America’s Cup, the words ‘that’s enough’ are rarely uttered – particularly at the money end of the game. News, rumour, gossip, call it what you will, that the Kiwi government have tabled a NZD100 million offer to Team New Zealand has been greeted like a drunken uncle at an 18 year old’s birthday party. The cool kids are smoking something exotic on a corner sofa watching with interest whilst the grown-ups deal with the situation. Officially it’s all ‘too early to comment on’ – ‘wrong to speculate’ whilst negotiations are ongoing and, as is the way with all dialogue with politicians and commercial entities, the deal is never done, if it is to be done, if all parties want it done, until one minute to midnight on the final day.
The inevitable rumour is spreading that Team New Zealand ‘wanted NZD200 million’ and that’s to be expected. If a billion had been offered they’d want two. Pick a number out of the air and the other party wants double. It’s called negotiation. Opening gambits are proffered and as a matter of principle, rejected. Think second-hand car dealing. It’s barter. It’s a game. But in this situation it’s high stakes with national pride on the table, the slogan ‘stay loyal’ is already doing the rounds and for Team New Zealand this is a tough one where timing is everything.
On one side you have the Kiwi government who are easy pickings in a PR spin whirlwind if things don’t go the right way but on the other side of the table, making all the right noises like a wolf in sheep’s clothing as Challenger of Record, are the hardest negotiators in world commerce. They didn’t become richer than Croesus by giving much away. And they won’t be benevolent benefactors now, particularly if they find themselves as the only game in town. This is all about winning, remember that.
Caution is at a premium. It may well be, after all is said and done, the best bet for Team New Zealand to stick with the devil they know in the government and re-ignite the Kiwi nation’s passion once again for a defence in Auckland at whatever money is tabled in the final scenario than dance off with a new best friend and take the Cup overseas.
Looking way, way forward, it could be the decision that secures the long-term future of Team New Zealand, mad as that sounds, as an out and out winning machine – especially with the talent coming through the lower echelons of Kiwi yachting – regardless of the result in the 37th edition. But it’s a difficult juggling game right now that potentially exposes the team to unbearable levels of flight risk for its current generation of stars. Do the deal in Auckland for a perceived pittance whooped up on a sense of national pride and you may well be looking at those lower echelons to sail the boats. Crucially though, you would garner favour, unity, pride and passion for the home team. That matters. Big time.
The great game of the Cup is red hot poker right now. I maintain that the best way forward is a stop-gap Cup in the UK with a nailed-on guarantee of a return to Auckland for the 38th edition. But I would say that, wouldn’t I? I’m talking my book. It’s almost certainly the daftest idea dreamt up by a fantasist that would love to see the event on his home waters.
It would be dismissed in Sicily and challenged in the New York Supreme Court and there’s a couple of documents knocking around that provide a perfect basis for m’learned friends to get involved and earn a smart buck in the process. It would all perhaps be well and good if the Kiwis came over and defended, and who’s to say they wouldn’t, but if they lost then all bets are off. If it’s coming to the UK then it simply has to be a straight up Cup with no side deals and no guarantees going forward of venue that would in effect make the whole thing a sham.
And then there’s the fall-out for Team New Zealand to consider if they take a deal with the Challenger of Record. The fabulous Kiwi public won’t be thanking their heroes for turning their backs on them. That statue of Grant Dalton in the Viaduct Harbour (there has to be one surely?) will be defaced by sundown. The knighthood, nailed on for the Queen’s Birthday Honours to be announced any day soon, will be rescinded faster than a Formula 1 pit-stop, lost miraculously in the paperwork. The warm glow of nautical fame enjoyed by the superstars of Te Rehutai will freeze colder than a South Island winter. Kiwis don’t like disloyalty. I don’t blame them. I’d be furious personally.
So what a to-do. It’s precarious times for Team New Zealand. The Cup is on a knife edge and you can feel a ‘moment’ coming just around the corner. Is it a slow motion car crash or something else? Will wise-heads convene and thrash out a sensible solution that keeps the Cup in Auckland and Team New Zealand in beer money and boats? There’s something in the air whilst the clock ticks on relentlessly. It could well be the biggest decision of their lives.
A mug’s game – no, it’s just the Auld Mug game. It was ever thus. Fascinating.