For Sale: One Volvo Ocean 65. Lovingly restored by a dedicated youthful team. Full of promise. Turn-key investment in tomorrow’s world. Covid-19 forcing very reluctant sale. All options considered – leaseback by friendly millionaire preferable. Where the hell are the visionaries?
So whilst there’s one camp in New Zealand claiming to have untold riches at their beck and call and offering fantastical expensive audits of America’s Cup costs, another, far more relevant and vital campaign goes by the board and is forced to shut up shop. You couldn’t make this up. But reality is a killer. In this case it’s an un-necessary and completely untimely, unwarranted death in the land of the long white cloud and my sympathies go with those that tried so hard but have ultimately come up just short. This time.
I admire Bianca Cook for having the guts and the vision to see that all around her are the next generation of Kiwi superstar offshore sailors and deigning to put a bold campaign together to enter The Ocean Race and get New Zealand back on a start-line that they’ve dominated for generations. She bought a VO65, corralled the brightest, newest talent and courted the marine industry for support, and support they did magnificently, whilst beginning that toughest of journeys to secure a sponsor. If you didn’t believe Grant Dalton that money is incredibly hard to find in New Zealand at the moment, well here’s the proof.
“This is not a decision we ever wanted to have to make. We’re devastated.” said Bianca. “We have always been realistic about what we needed to achieve to get us to the start line in 2022, and sadly we just couldn’t make that happen. The effects of Covid-19 and the withdrawal of Auckland as a race stopover have made it impossible – despite our best efforts – to get to Alicante for the Race.”
It’s a darkish day for New Zealand yachting. Let’s not over-blow it. Some suspect it’s the tip of an iceberg. An early decline foretelling the future? Yeah perhaps. This programme should have been a slam-dunk for those foresightful Kiwi investors that have so loyally supported teams and sailors in the past and who are lining up now to create havoc and play merry-hell with Team New Zealand. Am I alone in thinking that supporting youthful talent would be a far better spend than costly and hugely boring PR campaigns in the media and expensive retention of m’learned friends? Priorities should be assessed. If the money really is there, use it wisely. Maybe it isn’t? But push on open doors if you can rather than a litany of bluster with an ego-maniacal bent.
But for the next generation, have no fear. These Kiwi sailors that have been seemingly kicked to the curbside as a by-product of this viciously political pandemic will get snapped up, with any luck, by the confirmed teams in The Ocean Race. Bianca Cook has a heck of a future as a leader. New Zealand yachting will survive and thrive despite this punch to the solar-plexus – of that I am more than sure.
However, the corporate world is largely deaf right now to sponsorship with more excuses to reject and retreat than ever before. Everything is a tough sell. The bean-counters, the auditors, the lawyers, the job-scared marketing managers and the recalcitrant CEOs muddling through are in charge – dullards the lot of them. The millionaires want a slice of the billionaires pie at the apex but can’t get past the velvet rope to the VIP lounge and ignore the less infra-dig races that are vital to the long-term. Shame on them.
The New Zealand Ocean Race Team could have been wildly successful at the stroke of a pen on a cheque but today it’s in tatters despite best efforts all round. It mustn’t deter the likes of Cook from trying again. The Covid political football will deflate, it simply has to, and projects like this, especially with youthful talent involved, must be allowed to succeed. My guess is that in a heartbeat, a generous heartbeat, the campaign could be resurrected. It should be.
The wider view, however, on living on another’s dollar and hitching a ride on a corporate or a rich man’s coin is marred by dark clouds. Yes sailing is experiencing a boom right now at the grass roots and there’s plenty of snow at the top of the mountain but for those with a lower profile operating in the middle, it’s tough.
Fast cash isn’t arriving with any gusto into the hands of those that haven’t got a be-medalled back-story or hundreds of thousands of social followers. It’s a tough environment to be pitching dreams and promise into. We’re seeing an age of the privateers once again putting personal cash on the line to compete in these ever more glamorous races and fighting the tide of tech. Perhaps it was ever thus but the corporate world is largely shut and as I say, deaf to all approaches.
It’s the same across many sports. And it’s a nut that won’t be cracked anytime soon. Getting sponsorship today requires an approach mired in new tech, guarantees of eyeballs, positive profile, next-gen inspiration with current deep relevance and of course, an eco bent to absolutely everything. Hitch to planetary rescue and you’ve already ticked off 50% of the requirements, the next 50% is harder still.
And as a framework to why many commentators opine around the funding of the next Cup cycle, it’s a worrisome time. I have no doubt that at the final knockings a deal will be secured but from all that I hear, the obstacles, the algorithms of pure cash sponsorship, are mighty to overcome.
Don’t discount a White Knight bid at the 11th hour by one of those with more cash than Croesus who have enjoyed central bank largesse and the resultant swelling of their diversified portfolios. Neither too, an oblique funnel of cash from a single-ruler state, masked as an investment with an underhand of preferential treatment in trade discussions or long-term provision of black gold. Don’t put your chips on the ordinary or the obvious.
For Bianca Cook and her ambitions for The Ocean Race, the course is probably run. My heart goes out to her. It shouldn’t be this way. Brighter days are ahead and we need people like this in the sport who don’t give up, who don’t take ‘no’ for an answer but who are realistic and pragmatic when it comes to the crunch. This is just a blip on a stellar career map and I admire her for trying and striving so valiantly.
Her time will come.