To challenge for or defend the America’s Cup – which is better economically?

By Sam Richardson 26/09/2013

They say that a week is a long time in sports. This has never been so true as what has developed out off the coast of San Francisco this week. The Oracle Team USA syndicate have almost pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in sports history in rattling off six consecutive wins to tie the regatta and bringing the battle for the Auld Mug down to a winner-take-all race tomorrow morning (NZT).

This time last week it seemed that an Emirates Team New Zealand victory was assured and that we’d be hosting a regatta to defend the Cup in Auckland in about three year’s time. Now the tack has changed considerably – this from today’s New Zealand Herald: it would appear that the chances of a future New Zealand challenge for the Cup (should Oracle win the final race tomorrow) look set to take a massive hit.

Team chief executive and fundraising power source, Grant Dalton, has already hinted that he will not do another America’s Cup challenge if this one fails, though such decisions are always open to review. If he goes, there are doubts that multi-millionaire benefactor Matteo de Nora will continue either.


 Lose, and Government money becomes harder to prise out of the public coffers. This year’s nail-biting Cup match has been tremendous theatre but it will make the private fundraising job that much harder. One America’s Cup lost campaign allows hope to burn. Two lost campaigns raises the issues in sponsors’ minds of throwing good money after bad.

Think about this from New Zealand’s perspective. We’ve had the theatre, and the drama, and the world’s eyes are now firmly fixed on San Francisco as Oracle seeks to finish what would be nothing short of a miracle, being virtually dead and buried a week ago. Think of the advertising this is giving this country – granted, it would be nicer if we were not on the wrong end of the comeback, but it is publicity all the same, and publicity that likely would not have occurred if we had won the Cup earlier in the regatta. Now the US have something to talk about with this regatta – and it is synonymous with New Zealand. So we get this advertising benefit (which is difficult to quantify but is nonetheless part of the package). How much has this cost the taxpayer? The Government committed about NZ$40m to the TNZ challenge – and are now reaping the rewards of that investment.

What happens if we win it? Several things, possibly; one of which is that there are fair questions to be asked as to whether hosting an event such as the America’s Cup is the goldmine people say it could be (I blogged about this earlier in the week). We also know that the Government has in the past expressed an interest in throwing more cash at a Cup defence – for what might be considered fairly obvious reasons – and New Zealand taxpayers are not averse to more dollars being committed to a future defence. The question must be asked as to whether the return on the investment in a defence is as great as the return on the investment for a challenge? If there’s one thing to be said for a challenge, it is that the Government writes a cheque for a fixed amount – end of story. A defence is more likely to be accompanied by a blank cheque – much like we had for the Rugby World Cup, where the loss was expected right from the start, on top of government spending towards stadiums, infrastructure, security and the like. Right now, we’re getting great intangible mileage out of a $40m taxpayer investment – would we get such mileage if we hosted the event? Is that $40m better spent elsewhere? Important questions that need answers.

Finally, if Oracle does complete its staggering comeback tomorrow, keep a very close eye on the Auckland and New Zealand economies in three years time, to see whether the loss of the Cup has a detrimental impact. I’d be prepared to bet that there won’t be a slump or the like if the Cup is hosted elsewhere. After all, you can’t miss what you never had. Life goes on. And so does the economy.

Editor’s note: Originally appeared at Sam’s blog the evening prior to New Zealand’s defeat.