America's Cup — What money can buy

The NZ public has become trapped in a short term debate about a long term initiative, argues entrepreneur Andy Lark — who supports the government putting another $2 million into Team NZ. 

Enterpreneur and close America's Cup follower Andy Lark tells NBR he supports the call for the government ot put another $2 million into Team NZ.

"But the point I am trying to make is that is the wrong frame. We are investing in a professional sponsorship, not tiding a team over," he adds.

"That investment has and will pay big dividends. We should view the $2 million needed now as part of that broader sponsorship. All professional sports teams have an anchor sponsor. We are theirs.

"The public is being trapped in a short term debate about a long-term initiative."

Below, Mr Lark elaborates on his argument. — CK

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Apparently our interest in the Auld Mug is fading. We’ve grown tired of the pursuit and frustrated with the rules. Some might have just now concluded it’s all a bit too much money at the end of the day. Others, well, we just don’t like losing.

But it’s at these times we need to ask not whether we should renew our Nations’ support of Emirates Team NZ but rather are we still committed to building our brand this way.

Those of us that have been in the middle of teams as varied as the America’s Cup and Formula One know that as hard as it is to win, it’s even harder to build a team from scratch. Once the door is closed, it rarely opens again.

The direct result of lack of sponsors will be our sailors, designers and builders will go to work for other teams. They are that good that they’ll be gobbled up in a second. And that will be the end of our ability to compete globally in the world’s most important sailing event.

Lets be clear, there is no other global sailing competition that has either the visibility or stature to attract global sponsors in this number at this value. Talk of current sponsors moving their dollars in support of an alternative event are unfounded and ignore the historical importance of the America’s Cup. Even if they do, its unlikely the event would attract the interest to draw other major sponsors.

In the background, our boat building industry will trundle along benefiting from New Zealand’s preeminent design and industrial capability. But I doubt that capability will be so directly and visibly associated with New Zealand - you see, Team New Zealand is the brand that carries the industry and nation onto the global stage. And over time that industry too will suffer from the loss of “brand mana”

And this is the lens our support of Team New Zealand needs to be looked at through. Not as Government funding but rather a nations sponsorship of a team that asserts our brand on the global stage.

As any marketer will tell you, rarely do the big ideas that truly move the brand needle show a straight-line between a dollar in and a dollar out. It’s time for us to put our current situation aside and dial-forward a few years and recognise what we will lose.

Several years ago we as sponsors had the opportunity to do just that. To put our dollars, time and technology behind a team that frankly looked like it had little chance of winning. If you think it is hard for a Nation to put its money up, its even harder when you have the choice and commercial imperatives of a publically traded company. Opportunities for brand building are nearly endless.

Like now, back then the rules were entirely stacked against us. The competitors were better funded. The cup holders, well, they were the cup holders, indulging in just as anticompetitive rule making and nonsense.

We were in a far worse situation than we face now. But were we going to let that get in the way of competing, absolutely not.

So why would a commercial organisation fund it then? Was it because they were that good. Afterall, New Zealand has won the America’s Cup more than it’s won the Rugby World Cup. Think about that.

Was it because of the powerful stories they’d be able to tell about their involvement in the team? And how that involvement would amplify and better their brands? Or was it their ability to engage customers on the global stage based on the versatility of sailing to be relevant across many cultural boundaries?

Yes, it was all of those things. But mostly, they funded them because they kept good company - the people of New Zealand. We all knew that as a whole we had a chance.

Sponsors looked at the Nation of New Zealand as not subsidising Team New Zealand but rather as cosponsors. And that was on show in San Francisco. In one of the hardest markets in the world to penetrate New Zealand shone alongside those of sponsors.

Hundreds of millions not only saw the New Zealand brand, but saw it in a new light. Not just as a friendly nation home to hobbits, sheep and stunning scenery. But a nation with staggering technology prowess and engineering know-how. A nation that could challenge the toughest competitors on earth and take them to the wire. A nation worth backing.

So what we need now is leadership that has the courage not to guess what public opinion might be, but rather to lead with purpose. Our purpose, much like that of those commercial organisation backing Team New Zealand should be to reinforce our commitment to increasing consideration for our Brand through the worlds most competitive sailing team on Earth.

The debate around whether we should “give” Team NZ $2 million to “tide them over” is misplaced. This should not be a conversation about funding but rather about sponsorship. Professional sports teams require an anchor sponsor to function. We are that sponsor today.  Any change in that support changes the stance of all sponsors. That’s how it works.

Without the people of New Zealand supporting their team, the sponsorship dominos won’t fall. Those fickle commercial dollars won’t flow to another New Zealand sporting team - they’ll flow to other countries and power sporting codes such as Formula One, Golf, and Tennis.

What we’ve created is something remarkable - a team that can carry our brand on to the global stage. A team that others want to back with us. A team that represents us all with pride, professionalism and passion and backed by a support crew that gives New Zealanders a platform to connect, conduct commerce and create consideration with a global audience.

That is something precious, something money can’t buy.

Well, not easily. And not again anytime soon.

Andy Lark is a director at No. 8 Ventures. His previous roles include chief marketing officer at ASB parent CBA and VP & general manager, large enterprise marketing & online at Dell.

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