America’s Cup 2021: Did Auckland make any money from the sailing regatta?

Hosting the America’s Cup in Auckland was expected to add $600 million to $1 billion to the New Zealand economy, but due to Covid-19 did the event even make back the $250m spent by the taxpayer?

That’s one question that the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE) is seeking to answer as it has contracted a mystery external provider on behalf of the Crown and Auckland Council to conduct an “impact evaluation report” post-event.

Findings from the report will be made public in July.

Data from Infometrics estimates that Auckland lost an estimated $5 million per day under alert level 2 restrictions (compared with normal spending levels), of which the majority of the America’s Cup was conducted under.

Infometrics director and senior economist Brad Olsen said millions of dollars of sales would have been lost from the Cup as a result of Covid alert levels, and the fact the borders were closed to international tourists and superyachts.

Olsen does not believe that the America’s Cup was economically viable.

He said America’s Cup “barely stacked up financially in the best of times” and the loss of international tourists had taken “a lot of wind out of the sails”, with Covid alert levels further dampening spirits and spending potential.

“As passionate as Kiwis are about sport and yachting, the America’s Cup did not make a financial return for New Zealand, it was something that cost us more than we got out of it.”

MBIE could not provide any figures on expected economic returns, but said it expected those would be much lower than its initial assessment made in 2017.

It had originally forecast that the sailing regatta would add $600 million to $1 billion to the New Zealand economy and create approximately 3600 jobs. At least 20,000 international visitors were expected to arrive in New Zealand for the event.

“The assessment made a number of assumptions that have since changed. This includes the number of challengers that were expected to race, and the impact of Covid-19 on people’s ability to travel and the amount of superyachts that were able to come in. For these reasons we expect that the economic return on the event will be much lower than the initial assessment,” Susan Sawbridge, MBIE manager of major events, said in a statement.

Team New Zealand has spent about $6 million creating the event, while the Government and Auckland Council have invested a combined $249.5m.

Rod Stewart’s Sailing campaign for the event cost taxpayers $918,000.

Last week Stuart Nash said it was very difficult to judge the return on the Government’s investment in Team New Zealand given the impact of Covid.

“This is one of those America’s Cup’s that’s really difficult to judge. Obviously normally we would have a whole lot of international tourists spending money in the country. We haven’t got that but what we have got is a whole lot of international viewers sitting in their Covid lockdown in the middle of winter looking at New Zealanders on the water, no social distancing, having a great time, going ‘when the border is open, that’s where I want to be’. So very hard to measure that but certainly not the economic impact we would get if it wasn’t for Covid.”

Infometrics data showed spending activity in Auckland was significantly hit by the alert level restrictions, even at level 1.

Spending on food and beverage in Auckland was down approximately 10 per cent year-on-year in early 2021 during level 1, with the spending hit increasing to 20 per cent at level 2.

The data suggests that Auckland businesses may have lost out on between 10 and 20 per cent of normal spending volumes with alert level 2 in action, said Olsen.

Spending activity was estimated to be impacted by approximately 5 per cent under level 1.

“With the America’s Cup likely getting more people than normal to turn out, businesses would have be even harder hit,” Olsen said, adding that the alert levels would have muted spending as fewer than expected Kiwis had likely turned up to support the event in person.

“Even with all the international tourists coming in that were expected, the amount of money that New Zealanders were putting into the America’s Cup wasn’t necessarily bringing the greatest return to the country – the cost-to-benefit ratio was relatively flat, even possibly slightly more we were spending than we were going to get back.”

Half of the America’s Cup regatta was conducted under alert level 2, and half under level 1. However, spending in the city in recent weeks, particularly on sailing days, has been strong.

Approximately 40,000 people descended on Wynyard Quarter last Wednesday for the final deciding ahead of Emirates Team New Zealand winning the America’s Cup.

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