Gordon Campbell on good riddance to the America’s Cup

9f2da0533949ecfd513dSo the America’s Cup defence is off to Barcelona. Supposedly, if you could drill a hole through Auckland to the other side of the world, you’d come out near Seville, barely a two hour plane trip from Barcelona. Right now, quite a few yachting fans would probably like to put Grant Dalton and Emirates Team New Zealand ( ETNZ) into such a hole, and seal it off. The rest of us are just happy to be rid of the thing.

Although the America’s Cup is commonly described as a “ business venture” it is one of those New Zealand business ventures where all the risks are socialised, and all the gains are privatised, since – reportedly – private investors wouldn’t participate unless the taxpayer had picked up the tab for all of the possible downsides and all of the upfront costs. That’s how we do business in New Zealand.

Seriously… By the time 2022 rolled around, the only hosting locations still in the running were the Irish city of Cork, the city of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia and the two Spanish cities of Malaga and Barcelona. The Irish government was never keen, because – like the Ardern government here – it didn’t think the returns were big enough (or reliable enough) to justify the risks and the upfront costs, even if this did create some legacy infrastructure. (So does every such investment. Public health more than most.)

As for Jeddah… The optics (and security issues for American teams) of running the America’s Cup out of Saudi Arabia never seemed feasible. That’s before you even consider the intense rivalry for regional dominance that exists between the rulers of Dubai (who own Emirates) and the rulers of Saudi Arabia.

In the end, Barcelona was the only option. It was the only bidder able to offer Emirates Team New Zealand enough cash upfront, good sailing conditions, pre-existing onshore infrastructure, and local and regional authorities willing to fund whatever it takes to rebuild Barcelona’s tourism industry, post Covid.

Ultimately, Barcelona had it all over us. The next Cup challenge is in September/October 2024, just after Paris will have finished hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics. Normally, the America’s Cup likes to avoid being held in a year that clashes with the Olympics. Yet Barcelona clearly thinks that Paris is close enough that the events can be marketed as a twofer for sports-minded travellers. At worst, the Cup will still be a useful loss leader and showcase for the same Barcelona regional authorities, who – according to this item in the Catalan News – are also putting in a serious bid for the 2030 Summer Olympics.

Basically… A lot of US and European tourists would be willing to treat the yacht race as an adjunct to a holiday in Spain. Not so many would be willing to make the long haul to Auckland. The same goes for the challengers. Eleven teams contested the 2007 event, but only three challengers were willing to invest in the long trip to Auckland and related costs during the last time around.

The government in Dubai – which is the “Emirates” part of Emirates Team New Zealand – is obviously not interested in putting its name (and its finances) behind an Auckland venue that’s so obviously bad for the product. In that sense, the new era in Barcelona promises to re-vitalise what was, in New Zealand’s hands, fast becoming a dying contest. Emirates can sell more high return business class tickets to a contest held in Europe, and it is they – not Grant Dalton – who call the shots.

Time is Money

Also: think about this. As others have pointed out, when the Cup races were being broadcast in Auckland, it was 4am in Italy, 3am in Ireland, and 11pm in New York City. Not exactly prime time. Yet conversely… When it is 4pm in Barcelona, it is 3pm in London, 4pm in Rome and in Paris, and 10am in New York.

Meaning: with those friendlier time zones, you can build bigger viewing audiences and (potentially) sell them to more advertisers, provided the event is no longer being treated as a “free to air” television spectacle. Globally, the America’s Cup is still finding its feet as a marketable TV event. To date, the mishaps and the capsizes have reportedly attracted bigger TV audiences than the racing itself.

In effect, Auckland had been out of the running since last July, when ETNZ turned down the $31 million offer in cash from the government, and the $68 million from Auckland Council, though much of the Council’s assistance was in kind, and not cash convertible. The political will to send more good money after bad had not been helped by a consultants report published in the wake of the 2021 event, which had found the investment of public money had generated a net loss for taxpayers/ratepayers:

The 36th America’s Cup in Auckland returned 79 cents for every dollar invested by the Government and the Auckland Council, a new study has shown. The economic benefit assessment, produced by consultancy Fresh Info, said that nationwide a total of $744.2 million was invested publicly, but it generated revenue of just $588.1m. The performance in the host city of Auckland was better, returning 85c in the public dollar, with $629.4m spent and $537.8m generated.

As with all such analyses, there have been quibbles about the parameters of the report, the use (and non-use) of financial multipliers, and the extent to which Covid can be blamed for the 2021 shortfall. But given that a sizeable question-mark still hangs over long-haul international air travel – Air New Zealand is not expecting to be back in profit before 2025 at the earliest – the likely returns from hosting couldn’t outweigh the inbuilt risks and downsides of holding the next regatta in Auckland.

In the end, it just wasn’t New Zealand’s call. These days, the America’s Cup may as well be called the Emirates Cup, and – when it comes to Auckland as a venue – Emirates had already left the building.

Slap happy

You may have already heard more than enough about the slap heard around the world. Yet US polling on public reactions has thrown up some fascinating divergences from the media consensus that Will Smith had been the prime villain of the Oscars incident. A poll of 2,100 respondents has found that overall, a majority of Americans had felt Chris Rock to have been most at fault, by a margin of 52.3% to 47.7%.

In fact, the media consensus that Smith had been the main offender on the night was shared only by those Americans whose income exceeded $100,000. Whites, Hispanics and blacks felt Rock to have been most at fault (blacks by a whopping 56-44%) while Asian-Americans were exactly neutral on the subject. The only age group that felt Smith to have been the main offender were the 50-to 64 age group. Those aged 18-34 and those over 65 were strongly supportive of Smith. Those with low educational qualifications also strongly supported Smith, but even those with advanced degrees (ie. beyond a four year university education) were split almost exactly on this issue.

In line with the Old Testament’s “eye for an eye” ethos, those Americans who believe the Bible to be literally the word of God were strongly in favour of Smith, but even those that believe the Bible to be just a book of fables, were only marginally more supportive of Rock.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the support for Smith was very strong among those who believe it is sometimes OK for the sake of discipline to smack a child – but again the people who strongly disagreed with that proposal only narrowly believed ( 50.1% – 49.9%) that it was Smith who had been mainly in the wrong.

Finally, there was a clear gender divide. Despite the “women as the property of male protectors” line of criticism, a lot more women (56.5- 44.5%) were supportive of Smith. This was in contrast to the men who (52.4% to 47.6%) mainly supported Rock.

Alas for Smith, the media consensus – shared by the decision-makers at the Academy, who had the power to revoke his Oscar award – made his public backdown and apology imperative. (Rock hasn’t apologised to Pinkett Smith.)

On this polling evidence, this incident would seem highly unlikely to harm Smith’s standing with the general public.

Footnote: Finally, and as the Bustle website has reported, this wasn’t the first time Rock had taken pot-shots at the Smiths. In 2016, when Rock hosted the Oscars, he criticized Pinkett Smith for boycotting the ceremony on behalf of diversity. As Bustle adds, Rock’s crack about Pinkett’s Smith’s hair seemed particularly offensive, given the sensitive history of black women’s body image issues to do with their hair:

In 2009, Rock himself made an entire documentary, Good Hair, about hair in the Black community, sparked by a question from his daughter: “Just yesterday, my daughter came into the house and said, ‘Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair? I wonder how she came up with that idea,” [Rock] said in the doc.

Woody Guthrie’s Hot Take

In the 1930s, Woody Guthrie wrote “Pretty Boy Floyd” in defence of the outlaw who – according to the song – got launched into a career of crime only because he had felt impelled to confront a Police officer for using “vulgar words of anger/ in a manner rather rude” within earshot of his wife. The song’s closing message still seems relevant:

…As through this world I’ve wandered
I’ve seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.

And as through your life you travel,
Yes, as through your life you roam,
You won’t never see an outlaw
Drive a family from their home.