Team New Zealand to defend America’s Cup in Barcelona in ’24

Emirates Team New Zealand will defend the America’s Cup in Barcelona in 2024, a once unthinkable move that the Kiwis say is needed for their financial survival.

The 37th America’s Cup match will begin in early October 2024 on the Mediterranean following the challenger trials that will determine Team New Zealand’s opponent for the oldest trophy in international sports.

Team New Zealand’s split from its hometown of Auckland, the City of Sails, had been developing since it successfully defended the Auld Mug a year ago on the Hauraki Gulf with a 7-3 victory against Italy’s Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team. The Kiwis said it was unlikely the next regatta would be in New Zealand because of funding difficulties in part due to the significant impact of having to sail the 2021 America’s Cup in a bubble due to the pandemic.

Barcelona, a cosmopolitan city in northeast Spain that hosted the 1992 Summer Olympics, was chosen to host sailing’s marquee regatta after bidding that also included the southern Spanish port of Malaga; Cork, Ireland; and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Cork pulled out Monday, when officials said the infrastructure couldn’t be completed in time.

Team New Zealand CEO Grant Dalton said all the venues met the sailing squad’s required financial threshold, which he wouldn’t disclose. He said Barcelona had many other factors going for it, including the weather, a time zone that is favorable for TV and the ability for the 75-foot foiling monohulls to race just a few hundred yards off the beach. So far, teams from Britain, Italy, Switzerland and the United States have issued challenges.

“It’s one of the top cities in the world,” Dalton said Tuesday by phone from Barcelona. “For us that’s significant because it puts the Cup instantly on a different stage, a much bigger stage than it’s ever been on. It was fantastic in Valencia, Auckland’s amazing, Bermuda was great as a sailing venue but Barcelona’s just another stratosphere.”

This will be the third time the America’s Cup has been sailed in Europe since the schooner America beat a fleet of British ships around the Isle of Wight on Aug. 22, 1851, to claim the silver trophy that became known as the America’s Cup. The 2007 and 2010 America’s Cups were held in Valencia, Spain.

“Because of its central location in the Med, there’s a great audience there and it’s a good time zone for the U.S. so it works in that way. I’m excited,” Terry Hutchinson, skipper and president of sailing operations for the New York Yacht Club’s American Magic, said from Newport, Rhode Island. “I think it’s an awesome opportunity for the event.”

American Magic is packing up its two race boats and 32 containers of equipment to ship from Auckland to Pensacola, Florida, which will likely be its year-round base.

Team New Zealand received substantial financial support from New Zealand taxpayers and Auckland ratepayers to help fund its operations and provide infrastructure for its previous Cup defense in New Zealand.

Dalton said that while there will no doubt will be disappointment in New Zealand, “the financial survival of Team New Zealand was the primary force that started the motion” of taking the regatta offshore.

“We physically couldn’t raise the sort of money we needed to keep it in New Zealand,” Dalton said. “Just couldn’t do it. We would not have been thanked, first of all, for losing it at home, and second, for putting on a rubbish event.”

Dalton said New Zealand government entities “didn’t even get out of the dugout” with a financial offer. “And we don’t blame them for that. There are other more important priorities in the world at the moment for the New Zealand government.”

Asked about the government and public rallying around the scrappy yet often underfunded Kiwis over the years, Dalton said: “Would the citizens and the government of New Zealand that supported Team New Zealand like Team New Zealand to whimper away and get absolutely thrashed on the water and the pride sailing team of the country get destroyed? I think not.”

Winning the America’s Cup gives the defender the right to pick the venue and this isn’t the first time it’s been put out to bid.

After Oracle Team USA successfully defended the America’s Cup on San Francisco Bay in 2013, it shopped the regatta around and accepted the Bermuda government’s offer of $77 million in cash and other contributions. An underfunded and underdog Team New Zealand stunned the two-time defending champs in 2017 to win the America’s Cup for the second time and take it back to Auckland. The first came in 1995, when Team New Zealand swept Dennis Conner in five races off San Diego.

After successfully defending the Cup in 2000, Team New Zealand’s top sailors were poached by startup syndicate Alinghi of Switzerland, which won the trophy to take the competition to Europe.

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Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at https://twitter.com/berniewilson

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