America's Cup 2021: Chamber of Commerce CEO Michael Barnett urges brand-building over dollars

America's Cup funders must look beyond the dollars and focus on building New Zealand's brand through the post-COVID regatta next March.

Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett has told The AM Show that the event is unlikely to yield the economic benefits promised, when local and central government committed $250 million in July.

His comments echo those of NZ Initiative chief economist Dr Eric Crampton, who claims that funding was "always nonsense", made worse by coronavirus border restrictions.

But Barnett insists the regatta can still play a valuable part in promoting the country's strengths around the world through TV coverage.

"It's changed," he says. "If you look at the promise they made to justify giving away council and government money, they said it would create $1 billion of benefit and 8000 jobs.

"The reality of that changed quickly - they'll be lucky to get back the money that the government and council have put into it.

"We won't have the supporters here, we won't have the sponsors here, you won't have the 'yachtie groupies' here - you'll have New Zealanders here and that will make a huge amount of difference.

"The [yachting] industry itself will do extremely well."

Despite these setbacks, Barnett is taking a glass-half-full perspective on event, now hamstrung by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As it did during the 1990s, when New Zealand last held the 'Auld Mug', the regatta has provided a catalyst for development of Auckland's waterfront.

"The whole of the waterfront has been developed for this type of sector," he says. "We'll run the yacht race and get some great benefit out of it, and then in a few years' time, you'll do it again with the best facility in the world.

"The yacht race isn't about 2021, it's a long game. It's how New Zealand can build its brand around this, so the story we tell around the race is where the benefit is - not just money at the port.

"We need to wrap up a story about New Zealand and New Zealand innovation - anywhere from the boats that first sailed with frozen meat on them, Fisher & Paykell and the developments they've done and organics happening in our kiwifruit.

"We're known as innovative, we need to tell that story."

Barnett warns the economic benefits of major events are real, but often overstated and outweighed by brand benefits.