New Zealand Nears America's Cup Victory

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Emirates Team New Zealand passes the finish line to win the seventh race of the America's Cup against Oracle Team USA on September 12, 2013 in San Francisco, CA. (Eric Risberg/AP)
Emirates Team New Zealand passes the finish line to win the seventh race of the America's Cup against Oracle Team USA on Thursday in San Francisco. (Eric Risberg/AP)

Unless Oracle Team USA can tack back from a big deficit, the America’s Cup will soon be headed for New Zealand.

The 2013 Cup is being held off the coast of San Francisco. Stu Woo, has been writing about the yachting competition for the Wall Street Journal, joined Bill Littlefield.

BL: Stu, would it be accurate to say New Zealand has won all but one of the races simply because they built a better boat?

SW: That is absolutely right. And the one race they did lose was a squeaker that they lost because of a strategic mistake. They should have won that one, too.

BL: You have written that the New Zealand effort has been funded on the NASCAR model. What does that mean exactly?

SW: If you look at all the boats – there were four that entered the race – three of them are sleek, beautiful yachts. The one that looks kinda different is the one that New Zealand built because it looks like a billboard. There are sponsors all over the sail, all over the hull. The team is called Emirates Team New Zealand.

So, they had to raise money, about half of the budget, by selling advertisements to international corporations. None of them are based in New Zealand. About half a dozen sponsors over and over and over.

BL: Toward the end of the week, Oracle skipper Jimmy Spithill said, “We need to take a good look at the boat.” Isn’t it a little bit late for that?

SW: It totally is, and the other thing I forgot to mention is a huge advantage to the defending champions [Oracle] is they don’t have to race in any of the preliminary rounds. It’s sort of like the San Francisco Giants winning the World Series last year and they can just sit out until the World Series this year and let everyone else duke it out to see who plays them in the World Series.

So, theoretically, Oracle has been watching New Zealand trounce all these other teams in the preliminary rounds. They should have known exactly how fast New Zealand could go and exactly what kind of technology they had and tried to replicate it this whole time. So that’s a big question: why didn’t Oracle figure out how New Zealand is sailing so fast?

BL: All right, I’m not going to ask you who’s going to win this thing because it seems all but inevitable that New Zealand will win, unless they sink. But what will winning mean to them?

SW: This is one of the biggest sports in New Zealand. It’s a nation of about 4 million people. Everybody there sails. And it’s so big that the New Zealand government is one of their biggest funders. They chipped in $29 million to try to bring the cup back to New Zealand, and they think it’s going to be a huge economic benefit because, unlike here in the United States, people will really care.

If you go out to watch the race here, there’s not a whole lot of Americans there. Sometimes it feels like there are more New Zealand fans than Americans. You bring it back to Auckland, and they’ll go nuts for it.

This segment aired on September 14, 2013.


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