Cover Story: Managing the America’s Cup…

Realising the promise of the America’s Cup as an event, as an investment, and as showcase for New Zealand excellence is big ask – and it rests on very few shoulders. Vicki Jayne gets behind the public glitz to examine the management support structure for sporting icon.

The small door set into featureless warehouse wall is securely locked. I announce my presence hopefully into microphone and am buzzed up into tiny reception area.

“Tony’s in meeting, if you wouldn’t mind waiting. Umm…you’ll have to stand, though, someone’s borrowed the sofa.”

Apart from small showcase of Team New Zealand mugs and T-shirts, the only notable decoration in the room is large photograph of the late Sir Peter Blake. Keen blue eyes laugh into the weather that plucks at his bright yellow sailing jacket. It’s more than year since Drake was murdered aboard the Seamaster while leading an environmental expedition to the Amazon. But here, at Team New Zealand’s modest and functional HQ, “Blakie” is in many senses still the skipper.

Blake set the leadership style that helped bring the Auld Mug back to New Zealand in 1995 and inspired its first successful defence in 2000. The self-managing team concept he established has carried through to the present.

He was good at picking the right people, leaving them to get on with the job and being there to provide support when it was needed, says Tony Thomas, current executive director both of America’s Cup 2003 and Team New Zealand. “You see that open, non-hierarchical management style in all his organisations and it’s still here.”

As event director of the last defence, Thomas worked with Blake, as have many of the current team which helps perpetuate the sense of leadership continuity. “A lot of the guys here sailed with him. You still tend to think ‘what would Pete do in this situation’ – how would he handle it? So yes, I guess he is still with us,” says Thomas.

Current Team NZ chief executive Ross Blackman’s involvement with the Cup and with Blake dates back to the ’92 challenge. He is clear that Blake’s leadership was the winning ingredient.’

The legacy lingers not only in terms of leadership but in the huge investment it helped haul back to local shores – all very evident on the harbour-facing side of the Team NZ HQ.

It was Blake’s vision to bring the America’s Cup to New Zealand and that saw potential in shabby, neglected area of Auckland’s waterfront called the Viaduct Basin.

Today, the rusty fishing hulks, semi-derelict sheds and carparks that once clogged access to the harbour have all gone. In their place nestle the sleek white hulls of multi-million dollar yachts, smart apartments, cafès with tables lining paved walkway along which flows stream of camera-toting gawkers.

The city without heart gained one. It’s buzzy, glitzy and it’s busy pumping gold. For sure, the beat can be little erratic. During the 2000 Cup challenge, it was in hyperdrive, pumping $640 million directly into New Zealand’s economy, creating work for thousands and immeasurable spin-off dollars for tourism’- not to mention the quality international branding it has given local marine industries.

Out on the water, Kiwi sailors held off competitors from around the world. We won the right to keep the show in town. But after the climax kind of post-activity disinterest set in. Crowds drifted away from the Viaduct. The swag of new eateries went on starvation diet; some died.

But although the glitz faded, the development impetus carried on. Apartments kept going up; second Cup defence loomed, and challenge syndicates returned to spend even more than they had first time round.

Never entirely deserted, the warehouses lining the Viaduct started to bustle with new life early last year. By late spring, the syndicates, the super-yachts, the charter boats and the billionaires were back in force. Their little spar-struck village doesn’t occupy huge volume of real estate but for few heady months, it is probably the highest-spending community in New Zealand. The syndicates spent more than $50 million here before racing even started.

The event itself acts like vortex, sucking in attention from bigger-than-ever media presence (around 1800 journalists, photographers and hangers-on), larger armada of superyachts (over 200), and few million assorted national and international visitors.

Build-up for America’s Cup 2003 was roughly double the length of the previous challenge, injecting an estimated $71 million into the economy and generating the equivalent of 1320 jobs, according to market economic study carried out for the Ministry of Tourism in October 2002.

There’s little doubt that, whatever the outcome of the 2003 Cup defence, it will earn even more for the country than the last effort. In industry terms, that’s equivalent to more than three years’ income from our thriving wine industry, says Thomas.

Add to that the national pride riding on the race itself, and you’d think the pressure on management would be palpable. Not so. “Both from management and commercial viewpoint, it makes it easier. This is great product to sell,” says Thomas.

“Whether you say Team NZ or America’s Cup, you’re never going to get ‘no’. People tend to come to you rather than vice versa. If you do have to knock on doors, they open very quickly.”

The fact that this is the second time around for Auckland also makes it easier. Lessons have been learned from the 2000 event, both on shore and out in the water. Both the Challenge and Defence are in many of the same experienced hands – including the two regatta directors, Dyer Jones and Tony Thomas.

A two-legged race
The America’s Cup is actually two separate races with two distinct management structures. The four-month-long Louis Vuitton Cup series is run by the Challenger of Record Management (CORM) – company set up by Yacht Club Punta Ala (club of Italian challenger of record Prada) whose shareholders include all nine challenge syndicates.

The 31st Cup event is run by America’s Cup 2003, an organising body formed by Team New Zealand. It also oversees management of the American Express Viaduct Harbour. The two companies consult to ensure seamless transition between the two race series, but there’s little overlap. They also differ in management responsibilities, size and style.

CORM’s task is to weed out the best challenger and ensure it’s well prepared to face the defender. That involves laying down the rules and format both for the challenger selection and, in collaboration with America’s Cup 2003, the Defender series.

Its organisational structure includes four-strong measure ment committee (who check that every aspect of each challenge yacht is in compliance with Cup rules), and 19-strong jury of umpires (the people who make decisions on the water or in the protest room on whether any boats have violated racing rules). It also oversees about 215 volunteers who do the legwork out on the water including buoy placement, flag hoisting, course control.

CORM also plays host broadcast role, providing various broadcast rights to holders around the world with audio and video of events.

Not surprisingly the CORM team is cosmopolitan international bunch – around 10 nations are represented on the jury-umpire panel. Most bring heap of previous America’s Cup experience to the table and CORM regatta director Dyer Jones is probably more experienced than most.

Normally based in America where he runs his own business, Jones is onto his 10th Cup involvement. His first in 1967 was as crew member, and more lately as the 2000 Louis Vuitton Cup regatta director. Despite wanting less-demanding role this time (and more time to explore New Zealand), he was pitched in the deep end by the last-minute resignation of his replacement. “So I came back by default – my wife was about ready to shoot me.”

It’s seriously fulltime job. He has an immediate staff of 15. Most work long hours and have litt

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