Chris Cameron / Emirates Team New Zealand

Emirates in holding pattern

Grant Dalton on the trials and tribulations of entering the 34th America's Cup

Tuesday November 23rd 2010, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Grant Dalton at present is a little like a pinball with a Blackberry attached. The Team New Zealand boss is at the Louis Vuitton Trophy Dubai this fortnight in the heartland of his team’s premium sponsor, Emirates Airlines. With a wealth of corporate entertainment opportunities available at this event, there are understandably more people wandering around sporting the Kiwi Cup team’s familiar colours than any others.

Finally getting to sit down with Dalts, one gets a feeling of frustration from the eminent round the world veteran. He, like the rest of the Cup world, is waiting to hear the announcement of the 34th America’s Cup venue, whether it will be San Francisco (the favourite) or somewhere else. As he states: “I can’t do much fund raising until I know where it is. The venue has massive implications on the sponsorship for a commercial team. It is no surprise that there is nothing more than noise out of commercial teams because they can’t do much else, because there is no venue. The problem is that that makes it all quite tight to get the money.”

Once the venue is announced, Dalton is under no illusion that raising the money is still verging on the impossible, given the short time frame. “You have got to be moving – if we get a venue say in the middle of December, even if you had the money by the end of February, you can’t do it, you can’t turn the thing around.” The critical date is June 2011, the latest construction of the team’s first AC72 catamaran must start, so working back the team must be into design and R&D well before commercial backing is secured.

As Dalton puts it: “It took us seven months to design the Volvo boat at a sprint and we knew basically what that looked like. You can’t do it. Or you can do it but you won’t win.”

Despite this, Dalton doesn’t think that the timeframe is unrealistic. “It is exactly correct, because anything longer would be detrimental and then you really would lose everybody. Half of us would die of old age! I don’t think it is unrealistic but for the commercial team it is tough.”

Having absolute information about the venue is of paramount importance this time, as Dalton says: “We are talking to these guys [Emirates Airlines] but if I went to them, they’d just ask ‘where is it?’ It may not sound dramatic, but you have to put it in context: Any uncertainty in the America’s Cup, based on what’s just happened, completely changes the perspective of how people think. So while there is the tiniest uncertainty on anything, they will not move. No sponsor will.”

Contrary to what one might have thought, Dalton is quite categoric that from a commercial standpoint, the 34th America’s Cup would be better in the USA rather than Europe or Italy. “For us we have a chance in San Francisco. San Francisco is perfect. I am banking on San Francisco, otherwise I would say we are a no show. San Francisco works on every level: It is new, it is a good venue, it is the biggest market in I.T. Europe is dead.”

We point out that the USA doesn’t have a sponsorship culture like there is in Europe. However Dalton remains adamant the American market is “head and shoulders” above Europe.

A contract remains in place with the New Zealand government. This rolls on from the 32nd America’s Cup, but Dalton points out that this is only triggered when sponsorship is found. “It is chicken and egg. I need the commercial money, then I need to put up the case, then another two months goes by, etc etc. It is seriously going to be tricky to be in the Cup.”

In terms of the amount he is seeking, Dalton won’t state an exact figure, except that given the feasibility study they are working on, it appears that it will be slightly more than their budget for the 32nd America’s Cup. “I think it is less than Keith Mills thought [100 million Euros]. Even if he is right - and he might be because you could easily spend that - there is no way in a million years that we could get anything close to that.”

Dalton reckons they were fifth or sixth in the budget ranking for the 32nd America’s Cup. Guestimates at the time suggested funding to the tune of 50-60 million Euros.

While there has been talk of smaller teams and one boat campaigns, Dalton doesn’t think this is feasible, particularly with the new format of boat. “You will always have to look at a two boat program in case one breaks. Forget the two boat testing - which is an element - just for the simple logistics if one of them disintegrates or can’t race, you are not going to spend all that money to find you can’t race. So you have to build two boats.”

So while Dalton succinctly states the present situation as: “I have no sponsorship, none, zero, not one cent. No government money, no nothing,” suggesting that the Kiwi Cup team might be in a holding pattern pending venues announcements and successful sponsor negotiations, there are a few tentative steps being made. Thankfully to tide them through this period they continue to have the private backing of Swiss-Italian businessman and benefactor, Matteo de Nora.

At the moment they are well into a feasibility study for the next event. As Dalton explains: “I don’t actually know what it looks like, this thing. You wouldn’t build an aircraft unless someone got in and did some work for you. When you buy a company, you do due diligence. So we have a bunch of guys who are in the areas of wing structures, hull, logistics and sailing etc to look at it and report to Shoeby [Kevin Shoebridge], to me and to Dean [Barker], what it might look like, how you might do it and answer simple questions about technological advantage, where the technology exists, etc. Because I can’t do much more at the moment. I certainly can’t enter the America’s Cup, because I don’t have any money. That is going on at the moment, so if we get a venue soon, and if then I can pay for it – that is a massive ‘if’ - we don’t wake up one morning and go ‘ooh %$£% – now what do we do?’ So we have a blue print of how to start.”

To do a feasibility study on the boat and the solid wingsail they have contracted until Christmas French designer Guillaume Verdier and his team that includes Romaric Neyhousser, Benjamin Muyl, Hervé Penfornis, all of whom previously worked on Yves Parlier’s hydroplane catamaran, Mediatis Region Aquitaine. Meanwhile on the sailing side they have multiple A-Class World Champion Glenn Ashby, who worked with BMW Oracle Racing in the build-up to the 33rd America’s Cup. “Dean is doing some A-Class sailing, because that’s really cheap and Glenn is a good guy to help him with that,” says Dalton. “So we are biting off tiny little pieces of a very very big elephant, just enough that we don’t get completely wrong-footed if we suddenly find that the environment is available for us to do it.”

So Emirates Airlines......aeroplanes......wings – has Dalton been making those connections? “No, not at all. There is a fit from a branding point of view, but if we call up Airbus and ask ‘can we do a bunch of aero for an America’s Cup wing?’ That just isn’t going to happen. I know that North and the Southern Spars connection are doing quite a lot of work to not be left behind in that market and that will be available to everyone. It won’t be turnkey, but certainly you would get a lot of knowledge out of that.”

As to whether Dalton believes in Russell Coutts’ vision, he says that this is irrelevant. The game has been set and they can either play or not play. “Whether it is right or not, nobody knows, including him [Coutts]. The proof will be at the end. You can get your head around it. It is not scary. It is still a boat. It still requires the same ingredients of people and money and organisation – none of those things change. There are certainly a number of positives that could come out of it and one is a refreshing of the environment. But I’m not sure that wouldn’t have happened anyway. Certainly the multihull puts some refreshment into the system.”

The only reservation he tells us of is a fear that the wholescale changes being made represent ‘revolution not evolution’. He cites the recent changes made to Formula 1, where they are taking the circuit to new markets such as Abu Dhabi, Korea and Singapore while retaining their roots by continuing to go to classic venues such as Spa, Monza, Silverstone, etc. Maybe the revolution Coutts is putting into effect will affect the ‘nature’ of the America’s Cup, whatever that is.

“The next three years won’t change the 160 years of history up until now - it waxes and wanes and it has gone through a particularly bad patch. Hypothetically if it is right, then it will continue on in this direction. If it is wrong then it will change again. With the rest of the sport a bit sort of Doldrum-ish, the America’s Cup is still a pretty heavy focus for people. It can probably survive this in either way good or bad long term.”

Volvo Ocean Race

The other big agenda item on Dalton’s Blackberry at present is the Volvo Ocean Race – in fact it is bigger, he states, because they are actually doing that event, following their arrangement with Spanish shoe maker, Camper, another benefactor of the hugely favourable tax concessions the Spanish government are making to companies wishing to spend money in yacht racing. “They are brilliant. That boat is flying along, being built, everything’s settled.”

“Shoeby has just been Alicante for a three day meeting,” continues Dalton of next year’s event. “It is incredibly well organised, it is all on. It is refreshing to deal with the enthusiasm, because the America’s Cup is a pretty cut throat business and he is seriously impressed with what he saw in their new offices there. ‘Good for the soul’ were his words. I would have gone to that meeting as well, but I was sailing.”

From the off, Dalton has announced that he won’t be sailing the Camper VO70, set to be skippered by Chris Nicholson, but he doesn’t seem too grumpy about this. “There are other things I want to do. I have the right guy in the job and the right guys around him. I am comfortable with that.”

As to whether Team New Zealand would take on any other projects outside of the America’s Cup, Dalton says he doesn’t know. “At the moment the money is tough. With the Volvo we were lucky. It was the right place, right time with Camper and we couldn’t have found a better sponsor, if we tried. Whoever takes over from me after my time’s done that is their decision.”

When might that be? Quite soon, he quips, if he fails to raise sponsorship for the 34th America’s Cup.


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