New Zealand’s America’s Cup defeat dashed the nation’s hopes of hosting a title defense worth hundreds of millions of dollars and put in doubt its future involvement in the 162-year-old sailing contest.
While Prime Minister John Key didn’t rule out renewed public financing for Emirates Team New Zealand after the loss, he said earlier this month it was unlikely unless the team brought the trophy home. The Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, which served as the challenger of record, said another campaign may not be possible if expensive catamarans remain the boat of choice.
“It will be difficult for the team to stay together, particularly financially,” Team New Zealand Managing Director Grant Dalton said in a televised interview immediately after the final race on San Francisco Bay yesterday. “There’s probably will there, but I’ve probably done my time.”
New Zealand’s 9-8 defeat came after it led the first-to-nine points regatta 8-1. Over the past week, New Zealanders watched with increasing nervousness and ultimately dismay as Oracle Team USA, financed by billionaire Larry Ellison, put together eight straight wins for the biggest comeback in the event’s history.
Facebook Inc. said there’s been a 3,000 percent increase in the use of the word “choke” by New Zealand’s two million Facebook users since yesterday.
“Bugger,” Key wrote in a one-word Twitter post from New York after the final race, summing up the mood in New Zealand, where thousands had gathered to watch in pubs and yacht clubs around the country.
Politicians paid tribute to Team New Zealand in parliament today, with Finance Minister Bill English saying while the result wasn’t the desired one, “you have made us proud.”
New Zealand first won the Auld Mug, as the America’s Cup is known, in San Diego in 1995 with the yacht “Black Magic.” Its title defense in Auckland in 2000 and subsequent loss to Switzerland’s Alinghi in 2003 were worth about NZ$500 million ($413 million) each, according to impact studies conducted by Market Economics.
“We’re bitterly disappointed that New Zealand won’t be hosting the next America’s Cup,” said Peter Busfield, executive director at the Marine Industry Association, whose forecast for growth in exports of boats, marine technology and equipment was based on a future Cup defense. “It will make it more challenging for us to step up and get the international profile we were looking forward to.”
Mounting another challenge will be difficult unless the costs are reduced, said Andy Anderson, vice commodore of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron in Auckland.
“We’d love to be involved,” he said in a telephone interview. “The issues will be around the funding.”
Dalton said at a news conference in San Francisco that Team New Zealand’s challenge cost about $100 million. The government contributed NZ$36 million, with the remainder met by corporate and private sponsors.
The AC72 boats used in the series -- 72-foot (22-meter) catamarans with carbon-fiber sails that are bigger than the wing on a Boeing Co. 747 jet -- are too expensive, Dalton said. “You need something that’s more realistic price-wise.”
Ellison, who is the eighth-richest person in the world according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, said he’d like to get more countries involved in the next challenge.
“We’re all going to sit down and talk about what sort of boats we want to use going forward,” he said at a news conference. “The America’s Cup without New Zealand is just impossible to conceive. I think they’re going to be back.”
Even if funding constraints rule out another challenge from New Zealand, Busfield said the country still stands to benefit from the America’s Cup.
As well as constructing New Zealand’s boat, local companies built the wing-sails and appendages for Oracle and for Italy’s Luna Rossa Challenge. Those three projects alone generated NZ$350 million over four years, according to the Marine Association.
“New Zealanders built the winning boat,” Busfield said. “They came to New Zealanders to beat New Zealanders. We’re still on top of the world, we just don’t have the silverware.”