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Jimmy Spithill is back with Luna Rossa and racing on their TP52 - photo © Carlo Borlenghi
Jimmy Spithill is back with Luna Rossa and racing on their TP52 - photo © Carlo Borlenghi

America Cup restored

Entries closed last Saturday for the 36th America’s Cup, with Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron advising that just three teams had entered – the same three that had earlier and separately announced their Challenges.

Others are still trying to achieve a basic level of investment before opening their 2021 America’s Cup account.

Many commentators will be tempted to look back and compare the so far single figure entries for Auckland in 2021 with the double-digit Challenger numbers that began in Fremantle in 1987 and were the norm from 1992 to 2007.

There have always been two ways of looking at entry numbers in the America’s Cup. One is the simplistic numbers game. The other is assessing the resources and experience of the teams and the potential strength of the Semi-Final.

All the announced teams have a stronger financial resource than the Defender, Emirates Team New Zealand. The British Challenge, INEOS Team UK have the biggest single sponsorship in sailing at NZ$220million (less existing sponsor buyout)- enough to fund Team New Zealand more than twice over.

Offsetting the varying sizes of the Challengers piggy-banks, the Kiwis have the advantage of the Match being a home game. That has only happened once in the last four Matches for the America’s Cup.

The three teams who have challenged thus far are what Emirates Team NZ CEO Grant Dalton labels “Super Teams” – well-financed, well-resourced, well-experienced and on paper, any one of them would make a formidable Challenger in the Match.

Several teams who had indicated that they were entering, or were rumoured to be doing so, failed to file a Challenge by the first deadline.

Subsequent inquiries by Sail-World with either the teams themselves or others in their regions indicate that they hadn’t yet reached their required level of finance by the close of entries on June 30. The start-up phase is doubly difficult for a first-time team unless they have a financier who understands the America’s Cup Challenger life-cycle.

One of the Challengers who has not yet proceeded say their budget was €46million – that’s very close to Emirates Team New Zealand’s stated budget for the 35th Match. However, it’s also well short of the big budget numbers talked of by other Challengers, and sages on the fringes of the Cup. Don’t forget that salaries and people costs are about 60% of an America’s Cup budget. It’s not too hard to work out where the money is really being spent.

Challenger of Record Luna Rossa competing in TP52's ahead of the 36th America's Cup © Carlo Borlenghi

Challenger of Record Luna Rossa competing in TP52’s ahead of the 36th America’s Cup © Carlo Borlenghi

The second challenger from Italy – the Sardinian Challenge say they had a major sponsor fall over late in the piece, but say that otherwise, all the components are in place. Franck Cammas says he is still searching for a major sponsor for his Team France to replace the departed Groupama. Team USA 21 have told SailingIllustrated.com that they are looking for one more investor before they push the green button.

The announcement of their sailing team by New York Yacht Club’s American Magic challenge revealed that it comprised sailors from five different nationalities. That point would tend to give lie to the notion that the 100% Nationality Rule in the Protocol is a major stumbling block for entries. INEOS Team UK’s nine-strong Sailing Team has three nationalities – only one of their sailing team does not have British or at least dual nationality.

As we note in a story published earlier which looks at the Entries, and takes a look at the numbers and spread from the 1987 Cup to 2017, it is apparent that the America’s Cup has failed to recover from the New York Supreme Court action which began after the 2007 America’s Cup in Valencia.

Even with just the three Super Teams coming up against the most successful Defender in contemporary America’s Cup history, the 36th America’s Cup will be a brutal contest, in the most radical boats seen in sailing history.

Cup aficionados can sleep easy knowing that whoever is the winner come March 2021, they can be assured that the America’s Cup will be going to a good home – be it Cowes, Newport, Sardinia or remaining in Auckland.

The 37th Match, like the 36th in Auckland, will be sailed in the waters of the Defender – the way George Schuyler, the donor of the trophy, intended.

In future, the Cup will be under the care of a Trustee Club which respects the obligations and spirit of the Deed of Gift and places those values above some flight of fancy of a billionaire who wishes to turn the event into something it was never intended to be.

No more of the nonsensical “bidding the venue”, “Dalton clauses”, secret Arbitration Panel Hearings and Decisions, the Defender in the Challenger Series, negative points score in the Match, and changing the America’s Cup Class nine months after entries had closed.

The effect of the reduced numbers for 2021 will have some impact on the America’s Cup base planning process which is underway. With a full house, space was always going to be very tight – even with seven bases rather than the initial eight. If the entries stay below seven, the Super Teams will be able to spread out – Corporate, and VIP hospitality will be expanded, and that will mean a bigger spend in Auckland.

As a spectacle, the 36th America’s Cup will still be a “must-see” – either on the water from ferry or superyacht, ashore or on TV.

And best of all we will once again have that superb moment in the opening stanzas of the first race in the Match when time seems to stand still, as we wait to see whether it is the Defender or Challenger that has the early advantage.

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com/nz

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