America's Cup: Dalton claims expense at root of low challenger numbers

Emirates Team NZ’s AC72 is craned into the water with Luna Rossa already launched, both feature the new top wingsail section

Contrary to claims elsewhere, Emirates Team NZ CEO, Grant Dalton is reported in the Herald on Sunday as saying that expense is the main reason there are so few challengers in the next America's Cup and not the oft-blamed world economy.

Auckland media hear Iain Murray report on the Competitors Forum
Earlier in the week, America's Cup organisers were keen to damp down comments by America's Cup Regatta Management's Regatta Director, Iain Murray when he was widely reported in New Zealand as having said that he expected just three Challengers to be on the start line in the AC72 class. In later statement issued by America's Cup media staffers those comments were modified to indicate that a wider group of challengers could still participate in the Louis Vuitton Cup, due to get underway in July 2013.

The reports of low Challenger numbers came ahead of civic discussions in San Francisco, over the coming weeks, on the ratification of the City's contribution to America's Cup facilities based on certain expectations that were set on Challenger and potential visitor numbers, which have been revised down at least once.

Murray picked up the comment clarification theme in an international media teleconference held on Friday morning (NZT), where he advised that one team (possibly Oracle Racing, although no names were mentioned) had purchased the basic AC72 design package produced as a starter kit for potential teams - either to kick off a design exercise, or to build a single AC72.

Murray said that three teams had been allowed access to the basic plans without purchasing outright, with the idea that it would be used for 'quantity surveying' or estimating the build cost and other options in that regard.

Murray also modified his comments made in Auckland about build times (repeated in an interview broadcast Sunday morning on NewstalkZB with Peter Montgomery http://content.radionetwork.co.nz/weekondemand/auckland/10830.mp3!click_here 11.30 into the clip) saying initially that June 2012 was the final date by which construction could be underway for an AC72, citing an eight month construction period.

On the Friday teleconference, Murray revealed a means by which a team could fast-track construction, using the basic design, and then purchasing a standard wingsail package from Southern Spars (who are also constructing the wingsails for Emirates Team NZ and Luna Rossa in their new facility in West Auckland). Under that scenario Murray believed the build to launch time could be as little as six months - implying, in theory, that December 2012 was the drop-dead date for starting building. However Murray quickly pointed out that such a timeline would be a scramble at the end for a Challenger, and would mean going into the Louis Vuitton Cup with the boat literally straight out of the box - something he would not be contemplating were he running an America's Cup team.

Grant Dalton interviewed at the ETNZ Viaduct Harbour facility
Returning to the reasons as to why Challenger numbers are less than originally expected.

'It's too damned expensive,' Dalton is reported to have told the Herald on Sunday in today's edition. 'Oracle have talked about the Cup being cheaper but it is 20 per cent more expensive than last time.'

'It is a very, very tricky thing [to build and race an AC72] and it probably scared off the Russians, for example, and maybe other teams as well. I mean, there are three billionaires and us [ETNZ is the only challenger to have won commercial sponsorship to race in the next regatta; all the other teams are being supported by wealthy backers]. I guess that makes it clear how viable it is.'

The Herald on Sunday reports Dalton as saying that the world economy actually made it easier to gain sponsorship: 'I guess it sounds a little counter-intuitive but when we got out there and did a lot of hard work, we found that many high-end sponsors had rationalised their sponsorship portfolio from, say 10 sponsorships to four.

'I actually had more success in raising money for this Cup than the last one. My suspicion is that we will hear from Oracle now that there are commercial realities afloat in a world economy and they'll blame that - but I don't think that is it.'

For the full Herald on Sunday report http://tinyurl.com/7h2huob!click_here

Emirates Team NZ wait for the wind on the Waitemata harbour