There is a faint, yet tangible, feeling that the wind might be starting to go out of the sails of two of the world’s oldest and most celebrated sporting events.
By coincidence, we have had a pair of significant announcements within the same week.
In New Zealand, authorities quietly conceded that even allowing for the impact of COVID, the last America’s Cup lost them a truckload of money. A few days later the International Olympic Committee, meeting in Tokyo, awarded the 2032 Olympic Games to Brisbane, a minor Australian state capital.
What’s the connection, and why does this matter?
The hard numbers from NZ – combined losses approaching $300m for AC36 – do much to explain why the government and Auckland City Council declined to raise their offer beyond $99m to host the next America’s Cup defense. Facing deficits of those proportions it can’t have been too difficult for them to walk away from Grant Dalton’s venue auction.
But cutting Emirates Team New Zealand adrift from their Kiwi home so swiftly, and with hardly a backward glance, is a major shift for this fiercely parochial nation. It stands as conclusive proof (if any more were needed) that the Cup now has very little connection with the clubs and countries that ostensibly mount the challenges or defense. Kiwi fans feel abandoned, while the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron tags along behind ETNZ like an unwanted child.
The long-term outcome is that the America’s Cup will become increasingly rootless and detached from its precious traditions. Marketed as a commercial commodity rather than a sporting event, the Cup must inevitably now be at the mercy of harsh economic forces.
If, as may well happen, no genuinely appropriate city can see financial benefit from hosting the series, then its value as an event drops to zero. Individual sponsors might still wish to buy logo exposure on the boats and sails, but those deals are modest compared with the total costs of staging the Cup in its current hi-tech form.
People who might think this scenario is just overblown doom-saying should ponder the IOC decision last Thursday to award the 2032 Olympics to Brisbane.
The international honour of hosting the Games has been a sought-after prize for generations. The TV ratings were, until recently, stratospheric. Cities were prepared to spend billions on specialist infrastructure (everything from velodromes to white-water canoeing courses) just for the prestige of being an “Olympic city”.
But has the world has finally come to its senses? Brisbane was the only real bidder for the 2032 Games, and the IOC even had to change its rules to accept the Queensland capital. The city itself doesn’t have the capacity to provide complete Olympic facilities so the Games went to the “region”.
It seems that the great urban centers of the world have finally realized that there is no enduring upside to the colossal costs of hosting the Olympics. Like the dinosaurs, the event has become too large (and expensive) for its own good.
The America’s Cup may be in danger of heading down that same path to extinction. The cost of competing is so extreme that even the New York Yacht Club, probably the world’s wealthiest private sporting body, is planning to combine with the Stars+Stripes syndicate for AC37.
Meanwhile, Emirates Team New Zealand are touting the event to cities they presumably hope might not yet have done the maths that show the combined rights fee and infrastructure cost is an outlay they are never likely to recover. Valencia recently admitted they are still paying off their AC debts from 2007 and 2010.
We are reminded of that telling 1960s anti-Vietnam slogan: “What if they gave a war and nobody came?”
– anarchist David. Comment here.