Eoin English: €150m is a big ask, but is the America's Cup worth it?

A source close to the process said the impact of this event won’t just be felt within Cork Harbour - Cobh, Crosshaven and Carrigaline would benefit also.
Eoin English: €150m is a big ask, but is the America's Cup worth it?

Emirates Team New Zealand (R) competes against Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli during race ten on day seven of the 36th America's Cup in Auckland on March 17, 2021. Holding the America's Cup event here in May 2024 has been likened to staging an All-Ireland final every day for six weeks. Picture: Gilles Martin-Raget / AFP via Getty Images

It’s a big ask coming out of a pandemic and in the teeth of a housing and health crisis - to find €150m to host what’s viewed as an elite global sporting event for mega-rich superyacht owners.

And it’s going to be an even tougher sell from a political perspective when we don’t have enough homes, hospital beds and schools.

But with Ireland on the brink of being chosen as the preferred bidder for the prestigious America’s Cup yacht race in 2024, with Cork Harbour as the venue, the findings of a cost-benefit analysis suggest the State can’t afford to let this opportunity go.

The report by consultants EY shows that the State would face operating costs for the event of around €150m; €100m on capital expenditure and the rest on operational expenditure, much of which can be recouped through sponsorship, ticketing and events.

Most of the infrastructural works are planned anyway, and would simply be fast-tracked, including the electrification of the Cork to Cobh rail link, the upgrading of the Cobh to Cork road, including the bottleneck Belvelly Bridge, as well as infrastructural upgrades to Kennedy Quay in Cork city which has been earmarked as the racing village - the potential of this area was highlighted during lockdown when it became one of the go-to city centre outdoor spaces.

The spend would also include the development of new marina facilities in Cobh, and the development of new on-shore technical facilities for the racing teams, who base themselves in the host city for up to two years in advance of the race to design, build and test their racing yachts. Two sites are being considered - the former IFI site and the Doyle shipping yard site - both near Cobh.

Talks are also underway about the construction of a hydrogen plant in Crosshaven to provide fuel for the racing fleet’s flotilla of support boats.

The EY report shows that the event could be worth an estimated €500m to the economy, could attract a staggering 2.5m visitors to the country, generate at least 2,000 and possibly up to 4,000 jobs, and lead to a raft of long-lasting legacy benefits.

A source close to the process said the impact of this event won’t just be felt within Cork Harbour - with Cobh, Crosshaven and Carrigaline all set to benefit.

“It will be felt along the south and southeast coastline, from Rosslare to Dingle. It will be felt in every hotel within a two-hour radius of Cork,” he said.

“We’ve already got the ‘field of play’ ready to go, in the form of Cork Harbour, which is a natural amphitheatre.

 People gathered over the weekend on Kennedy Quay, Corkwhich has been earmarked as the racing village for the America's Cup. Picture Dan Linehan
People gathered over the weekend on Kennedy Quay, Corkwhich has been earmarked as the racing village for the America's Cup. Picture Dan Linehan

“So there’s no need to build stadiums as part of the bid for this sporting event.

“And you must remember that 90% of the operating cost will be about providing infrastructure that is already planned, which means there will be a lasting legacy for us all.” Host venues are told to prepare on-shore spectator facilities to cope with an estimated 20,000 fans a day.

Another source involved said apart from the two-year build-up, the actual America's Cup event in May 2024 would be like the staging of an All-Ireland final every day for six weeks, with live music and entertainment every evening in the race village in Cork city.

So what exactly is the America’s Cup and why all the fuss?

The event is often referred to as ‘Formula 1 racing on water’. It is the oldest trophy in international sport, predating the modern Olympic Games by 45 years.

It was first contested as a race around the Isle of Wight in 1851 where a syndicate of business magnates from New York sailed the schooner ‘America’ across the Atlantic for the World’s Fair in England being hosted by Queen Victoria. The schooner won a race around the Isle of Wight against a fleet of British yachts to claim the 100 guineas cup and re-named the trophy and event ‘The America’s Cup’. 

Over the years, only four nations have ever won the cup – America, Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland. It is often referred to as the ‘biggest prize in sport’ as the winning team and their yacht club gain all of the rights to the following event – they write the rules, set the boat design, decide on the venue, decide on the format of competition and set the dates – and they have an automatic place in the finals of the next event.

The 36th America’s Cup was hosted in Auckland earlier this year and now the race authority in New Zealand is poised to choose Ireland as the host for the 37th staging of the event in 2024. They are due to meet tonight to approve the decision, with a formal announcement expected later in the week, triggering a six to eight-week period during which contractual and commercial negotiations will be hammered out.

Should the negotiations fail, the other bidders from Saudi Arabia and Spain will be invited back into the process.

The bids are being evaluated by Origin Sports, a London-based sports consultancy whose chief executive, Stewart Hosford, is originally from Cork.

If the negotiations are concluded, and Cork is chosen to host the event, six or seven of the event’s superyacht racing teams, each up to 200-crew strong, will base themselves in the region from next year, spending the two years before the race designing, building and testing their machines here.

 Royal Cork Yacht Club marina. The America's Cup may bring superyacht owners to the region for several weeks cruising in the area. Picture; Larry Cummins
Royal Cork Yacht Club marina. The America's Cup may bring superyacht owners to the region for several weeks cruising in the area. Picture; Larry Cummins

They are expected to base themselves at either the IFI site or the Doyle shipping site near Cobh. The race authorities have announced plans to stage a Youth America’s Cup and for the first time ever, and a Women’s America’s Cup regatta.

There will also be a big focus on sustainability, which is where the proposed hydrogen plant in Crosshaven fits in. The event also attracts wealthy spectators and superyacht owners, who often spend several weeks cruising in the local area.

For the event in Auckland, 150 superyacht owners applied to attend but the hosts could only accommodate 71 large vessels into their marina and berthing facilities. When the event was held in Valencia in 2007, they spent an estimated €15.6m in the city.

That event attracted 2.5m visitors over four years, with a €76m increase in tourism spend, while the 2017 event in Bermuda attracted 96,000 visitors over three months and led to a $194.3m spend on the island, with an estimated $76m legacy tourism spend.

The racing itself is due to get underway in May 2024, with a series of challenger races involving up to 80 superyachts taking place over a number of weeks to determine who gets to take on the defenders, New Zealand, for the America’s Cup.

The head-to-head will take place in a series of 13 races over two weeks.

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