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Gladwell's Line: Clock running down fast for late Kiwi hosting bid

by Richard Gladwell/Sail-World.com/nz 7 Sep 09:53 BST 7 September 2021
Emirates Team NZ and Luna Rossa - Start -America's Cup - Day 7 - March 17, 2021, Course A © Richard Gladwell / Sail-World.com / nz

An 11th hour, rogue bid to have the 37th America's Cup hosted in New Zealand, appears to be running out of out of time- and fast

The latest rendition of the kiwi bid promoted by former Fay Richwhite staffer, Mark Dunphy, published in BusinessDesk on Monday claimed the necessary $80million of funding was available "only if Dalton is kept away from the purse strings".

Dunphy's reported prerequisite is at odds with the management practice of successful America's Cup teams.

Having a hands-on dynamic CEO, with the financial sign-off, strong sailing and America's Cup nous is vital to a Cup win. He's the Main Man. You don't win the America's Cup by nobbling a CEO who can deliver success in the way that Grant Dalton has over the past 18 years, and prior to that with his Round the World Race campaigns.

It is not viable for the sailing and design teams to have to make business case-type presentations pleading for money, to a risk-averse management committee, appointed by the money-men, with little or no America's Cup campaign experience.

The alternative is to have a billionaire backer, a Cup enthusiast with deep pockets, often an engineer, who understands technology, and has a strong trust relationship with their team CEO. The Dunphy deal, such as has been published, offers neither.

Stars & Stripes principal Dennis Conner raised private funding for his campaigns, skippered the boat and controlled the spending.

Similarly with Peter Blake, in 1995 and 2000. Blake was team principal, had financial control, and also sailed on the boat.

"It didn't make much sense to have the guy who was responsible for the overall programme, who was in charge of allocating the budget, and who had to answer to the sponsors, to be sitting behind a desk while we were sailing," wrote five times America's Cup winner Russell Coutts on his decision to have team boss Peter Blake on NZL-32 for the 1995 America's Cup.

Emirates Team New Zealand CEO, Grant Dalton is no different to his predecessors at ETNZ, and indeed the CEO's of other winning Cup teams since 1987. They all have had "control of the purse strings". They couldn't do their job properly without that authority, and decision making ability it brings.

The Board of Team New Zealand, to which Dalton is answerable, also comprises highly commercial and professional directors with America's Cup campaign experience and was re-constituted in mid-2014.

It is hard to understand the rationale for Dunphy's dictate. Certainly it has nothing to do with winning the America's Cup. To some eyes it has all the hallmarks of a hostile take-over of the America's Cup champions. Dunphy's counter is that he is attempting to provide a solid, sustainable, ongoing financial base for the team, as well as seeing the 37th America's Cup sailed in New Zealand instead of an offshore venue.

The real motives of his group, on the Hosting and Team are unclear, given their lack of contact with ETNZ and absence of a formal proposal for the venue hosting and financial undertakings.

The three short-listed venues all provided their Hosting proposals as of the end of February. The Dunphy led team have just nine days to do the same covering the financial platform to retain the race team, and fund/organise the event. It is a huge ask.

The sources of the $80million kiwi funding package have not been named.

Last week, mainstream media reported had it that a condition of Dunphy's backing was for Grant Dalton to be was required to be excluded completely from the team. It was a strange send-off for Dalton who picked up what was widely regarded as a hospital pass when he took over management of Team New Zealand after the debacle of the 2003 loss, and turned the team into America's Cup champions twice-over.

Dunphy's comments were returned with interest in a vehement statement issued by the team members, who unreservedly backed their CEO, of 18 years.

"For an assumption to be made that as a group of people we would simply welcome the departure of someone like Dalts, who has achieved more and given more than you could ever imagine to this team, to our country and to other people, is mind-boggling," the team statement said, adding that Dalton had raised over half a billion dollars for the team since 2003.

Former Team NZ Board Chairman, Sir Stephen Tindall echoed the team's supportive comments, as did Sir Ian Taylor of Animation Ltd, who had worked with the America's Cup, and the team, for 30 years.

Dunphy later backed away, saying Dalton could stay, but made the "purse strings" comment to BusinessDesk.

Still hope

Sail-World understands that even at this late stage of the venue bidding process, a late New Zealand hosting bid could be fast-tracked if it was credible. However a lot of the basics, let alone detail, are yet to be provided. For a New Zealand AC37 venue, this will also have to include how a COVID-locked Fortress New Zealand will be opened up to international teams, fans, officials and media. In this regard, the European bids are likely to be covered by a EU initiative opening borders for the vaccinated and subject to a preliminary negative COVID test, without the need for quarantine.

The Host Venue bid documents developed by Origin Sports contained a list of 15 criteria. Each had a different weighting, allowing the evaluation team to develop a scorecard for each of the 35 venues that responded. Presumably any New Zealand bid will have to answer these points in sufficient detail for a score to be calculated, and compared with the other venues.

A short-list of three Host Venues, being Cork, Ireland, Valencia, Spain and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, were developed before the start of the 36th America's Cup which Emirates Team NZ won on March 17, 2021

The three bids are understood to be in the final stages of negotiation, ahead of a decision six months after the completion of the 36th Match.

There is a substantial risk for Team New Zealand in accepting, at the end of next week, a less than comprehensive and binding proposal from within New Zealand. Even the acceptance of a late bid from the incumbent venue would likely be viewed with askance by the other venues, who have spent months on their proposals.

In accepting a late bid from a New Zealand syndicate, the RNZYS/ETNZ/Origin evaluation team would, by definition, be rejecting the other three hosting proposals received from the international venues, which have been signed off at a senior level by their respective governments.

Without comprehensive and legally binding undertakings, from a late New Zealand syndicate, the America's Cup defenders risk being left financially legless and trying to both run a regatta, as well as trying to defend the America's Cup against several super teams in the Challenger group - as happened in the Kiwi's disastrous 2003 America's Cup defence.

The announcement of the preferred venue is expected to be made on Friday, September 17 (NZT). Due to Auckland currently being in a Level 4 COVID Delta Lockdown it is likely that some form of virtual announcement will be made.

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