Challenge unsure in wake of Team NZ Cup loss
DUNCAN JOHNSTONE IN SAN FRANCISCO
Team New Zealand's future in the America's Cup is murky with boss Grant Dalton unsure if he has the energy to mount another campaign.
The 9-8 defeat to Oracle yesterday has placed a huge cloud over the team.
The Government, which funded $36 million of the $120m budget this time, is non-committal about future backing.
And Dalton was just as hazy about whether he can take the lead again after picking up the team following the 2003 disaster in Auckland. Losing this final on the back of the 2007 match in Valencia has the 56-year-old thinking hard about his own future.
He is a master fundraiser, including covering the costs of his numerous round the world campaigns.
But he always felt Team New Zealand's Cup future was reliant on winning in San Francisco and that hadn't changed in the immediate aftermath to yesterday's defeat.
He admitted the moment was a bit raw to be too rational, but said: "That is still my feeling ... I just can't see an easy pathway, I simply can't. Because at the end you need money, it's no more complicated than that.
"We have built up a very, very strong brand and got great guys, but I just can't even contemplate that [carrying on]. I could in Valencia after we lost, I sort of knew. I didn't know how I could do it but I knew I wanted to do it.
"I don't think I probably have the energy for that [again]. It's an intricate game at this level and there are no guarantees."
There will be immense pressure on Dalton to hold on to the reins. No one looms as a successor and the excitement that their campaign generated means the momentum is there to grasp.
Much will depend on what shape the next cup takes under Oracle. Backer Larry Ellison, glowing in the success of his foreign-dominated crew led by Australian skipper Jimmy Spithill, conceded yesterday that costs would need t o come down to attract more teams.
"It's no secret these boats are expensive. We'd like to have more countries competing next time, so we're going to have to figure out how to accomplish both - getting more countries competing while keeping it spectacular."
Skipper Dean Barker can't contemplate Team New Zealand pulling the plug though he did acknowledge the commercial realities.
"I think Team New Zealand brings such a huge amount of credibility to any America's Cup event," Barker said.
"The name has been there in some shape or form since 87 and really in 95 when Sir Peter [Blake] and Russell [Coutts] brought the cup back, that was really where the team got its identity.
"It's hard to really picture an event without a Team New Zealand presence.
"But the problem for us is that we are commercially funded and it's very hard to go and do it again, to raise this sort of funding to compete unless the costs come right down."
Barker, who has been at the helm for the last three campaigns after getting his first taste in the successful 2000 defence, made it clear he doesn't want to sail for anyone else.
"My heart and soul is firmly with Team New Zealand. If there is a chance the team will continue, then I'll be here. It's very hard to get excited about working for a foreign team."
Dalton believes Oracle won't back away from the multihuill approach. Highly critical of their expense, he was aware of the impact the regatta had made in New Zealand, something that had rejuvenated his team's brand.
"Time zone-wise it was good for TV, it was good versus evil, it was very accessible by other media and it's a sport that crosses genders."
"I think the great thing is that it has made the sport visible and turned a lot of people on to our sport which is all we can ask for.
"Whether that groundswell of support allows the opportunity for Team New Zealand to continue, we'll have to wait and see."
Team New Zealand now begin the painful mopping up process. Dismantling the base in San Francisco will take a couple of weeks, the paperwork a while longer.
"This is such a massive organisation, it won't just hide in the cupboard, it will take a while to pull it to pieces and put it to bed," Dalton said.
But the reality is that most of the more than 100 staff are as good as out of jobs from here.
- © Fairfax NZ News