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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

America’s Cup and us

Today Team New Zealand won the America’s Cup, and they’re bringing it back to New Zealand, where the next regatta will be held in 3 or 4 years. There are plenty of people who are ecstatic, others who are indifferent, and also some who are actually hostile. I’m not a fan of sailing, yacht racing, or even boats, truth be known, but I think this is awesome news. This is good for New Zealand in so many ways.

First, it’s important to note what a huge success this is: Team New Zealand had far less funding at its disposal than Oracle Team USA, but they had ingenuity, determination, and, it’s now obvious, the better team. The team included the helmsman, 26-year-old Peter Burling, was the youngest helmsman to win an America’s Cup. It seems like only a few weeks ago that he and fellow TNZ team member, 27-year-old Blair Tuke, won gold at the Rio Olympics.

Many pundits have been blathering on, as they do, about how this win is yet another example of New Zealand “punching well above its weight” on the world stage, and trite and cliché though that is, in this case it’s actually true.

Many of the normal participants in the America’s Cup Regatta opted out this year because of the unfairness of the rules, which Oracle Team USA wrote to benefit themselves. Many sailing experts still blame them for the “creative” rules in 2013 that saw Team New Zealand go from 8-1 races won—only one race away from taking back the America’s Cup—to losing 8-9 (after the race committee ordered the race that would have sealed victory for Team New Zealand abandoned because it “went on too long”). But Team Zealand didn’t dwell on that, and focused instead on building a better boat and superior team, and to put them together with other technology to win. When New Zealand succeeds in something big internationally, this is how it usually happens.

Despite all that, it’s fair to say that most people don’t pay much attention to yacht racing, even the America’s Cup. I well remember brief updates on the “CBS Evening News” when I was young, but even I don’t remember hearing about New Zealand winning the Cup back in 1995, though when I moved here I sometimes told American friends I was moving here “to look after the America’s Cup.” I’m not sure how many of them even knew what I was talking about, much less found that as funny as I did. Humour, and knowledge of current events, varies.

The most frequent criticism levelled against the America’s Cup is that it’s a “rich man’s game”, and that used to be fair since the very rich had always been the people behind the racing. Nowadays, though, that’s not true, and it’s corporate sponsorships that pay for the racing campaigns (Team New Zealand’s main sponsor is Emirates Airlines, but almost no one in New Zealand ever refers to them as “Emirates Team New Zealand”, even though that’s actually their name; we’re a bit contrary like that here).

But all racing regattas also involved government money somewhere, and that’s true for Team New Zealand and the two defences in Auckland (2000 and 2003), and Team New Zealand’s ill-fated challenge in 2013. What did we get out of that?

In Auckland, an area known as Viaduct Harbour (also called Viaduct Basin) was extensively re-developed, first for the bases of the America’s Cup teams, then, after 2003, it was turned into Auckland’s premier restaurant and nightlife area. It’s now a stunning place. But, there was much more benefit than just that.

According to the NZ Government, the 2000 defence alone “generated $640 million of value added in the New Zealand economy” as well as “$473 million of value added in the economy of the Auckland region”. For a small country like New Zealand, that’s big money—and just for one of the regattas, the first held in New Zealand.

According to Tourism New Zealand:
The two America’s Cup events in Auckland were conservatively worth NZ$1.2 billion to the economy with economic impact reports stating a two-dollar return for each dollar invested.
Much of this activity was direct—money spent by the various teams—and a lot was indirect, such as infrastructure improvements, increased employment by companies supplying the teams and regatta, additional tourism, and all the tax revenue that created. So, the economic benefits to Auckland and New Zealand were enormous.

What will the defence of the America’s Cup bring us this time? Similar dollar amounts, sure, but it will depend on where the defence is based. If it’s in Auckland, it could finally spur redevelopment of “Tank Farm”, an unsightly collection of fluid tanks between the Auckland Harbour Bridge and Viaduct Harbour—prime harbourside land, in other words.

A challenger series will bring tourists to New Zealand, and, yes, many of them will be wealthy, which means they’ll be able to spend up large. This is very good for the economy. But it may also spur tourism-related work, such as hotel upgrades, and maybe even a start on the rail link to Auckland Airport, something that the current government refuses to start for another 30 years (!). And, of course, there will be a benefit from the exposure the regatta will bring, enticing some tourists to visit.

There will be more related benefit, too, such as employment: The people employed in the hospitality industry, by suppliers to the racing syndicates, and even to the boat building industry, which gained a lot from the previous America’s Cup races in Auckland. An increase in jobs is always a good thing.

We have gained other things, too. For example, when Rocket Lab launched it’s first rocket from New Zealand (which I mentioned in May), their first ever in the world all-carbon composite rocket was “devised with some of the knowledge and experience garnered from America’s Cup campaigns past.”

So, here we are again: Holders of the America’s Cup, and playing host to a regatta that will have fair rules and fair competition. The country will benefit from the regatta in many ways, and some people will oppose it. All of this is the New Zealand Way—as it should be.

Congratulations Emirates Team New Zealand for winning, and for doing so the Kiwi way.

Related: “America's Cup” – New Zealand History, a project of the New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Photo: Emirates Team New Zealand sail past Rangitoto Island in Waitemata Harbour, off Auckland. Credit: Chris Cameron www.etnzblog.com [CC-BY-SA; Via NewZealand.com]

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