Brad Lewis: Grant Dalton must turn to highest bidder to defend America's Cup

OPINION: Picture this.

It's the year 2025. Alinghi teammates Peter Burling, Blair Tuke and Ernesto Bertarelli stand side by side at the Auckland Viaduct, lifting the America's Cup high, while thousands of weeping Kiwis wonder what could have been.

The words ring out from the great Peter Montgomery, the voice of  sailing: "The America's Cup is now Switzerland's Cup." 

That's the reality, folks, if Grant Dalton and Team New Zealand take the Government's NZ$99 million offer to stage the 37th edition of the world's greatest yachting regatta. 

Dalton has been vilified in the media over the last 24 hours. Traitor, mercenary, liar, greedy and manipulative are just some of the words used to describe him - and they're the nice ones. 

But in consultation with the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, the Team NZ boss has decided they want to be competitive and produce a package good enough to defend the 'Auld Mug' for a second time.

A Google search or two would reveal what Dalton and his crew are up against.

Fact: It will take a lot of money to fend off the growing resources of current and would-be challengers.

The advantage of 2021 is gone. The challengers now know their machines inside and out.

They know what makes the boats go fast and they know what doesn't work.

Yes, Team New Zealand have the best one-two punch in sailing in Burling and Tuke. Yes, Team New Zealand have the best designer on the planet in Dan Bernasconi, but Team New Zealand also have the smallest pockets.

Burling, Tuke and Bernasconi command the highest of salaries. They are the best at what they do, but look deeper into the crew and you'll find more talented sailors that have achieved at the highest level.

Josh Junior, Simon van Velthooven, Glenn Ashby, Andy Maloney and coach Ray Davies - the best in the business.

Keeping that team together over the next four years will cost a lot of money and that doesn't even include the world-class shore team that Dalton has put together.

Recently, Alinghi head Ernesto Bertarelli signalled his intention to put together a challenge for 2025.

This guy has already proved he can attract the best in the world with his deep pockets and wrest away the Cup from the hands of the Kiwis.

Bertarelli's net worth? A cool US$8.6billion - that's what Team New Zealand are up against.

Roger Penske, who owns a small stake in American Magic, has a net worth of US$2.3 billion and he's only a minor stakeholder.

Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli chief executive Patrizio Bertelli is worth US$5.5 billion and that's not even the tip of the iceberg. INEOS Team UK owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe has a net worth of US$29 billion.

Yet we expect Team New Zealand to compete with that type of financial resource with a budget that wouldn't make rival teams flinch, even after sponsorship deals. 

The situation could get worse if, as rumoured, Emirates pulls the plug on a 14-year relationship as naming-rights sponsor.

The airline just posted a NZ$7.7billion loss - sailing boats aren't a priority right now.

Remember the disaster of 2003?

On Thursday, The AM Show host Duncan Garner penned a passionate response to Dalton's decision to "turn his back on New Zealand".

"This idea that we can't do it in New Zealand is utter crap," Garner wrote. "What? Suddenly the brilliant battling Kiwi who can do anything can no longer fly?"

Well, the answer is no, we can't fly, not in this climate, fighting these types of resources.

Dalton needs a financial war chest to compete against the storm coming his way and unless New Zealanders are prepared for a repeat of 2003, then we must accept he has made the right decision to win.

Remember the disaster of 2003? A sinking boat, a broken mast, that damned "innovative" keel bulb, and Sir Russell Coutts and Brad Butterworth on the opposition boat, thrashing Team New Zealand 5-0.

As Dalton put it this week: "2003 was one of the biggest sporting travesties in New Zealand sporting history."

He's not wrong.

Grant Dalton and Team New Zealand celebrate the America's Cup win earlier this year
Grant Dalton and Team New Zealand celebrate the America's Cup win earlier this year Photo credit: Getty Images

You couldn't blame Burling, Tuke and the rest from being tempted by the financial windfall that would come with jumping ship to Alinghi, American Magic or Luna Rossa.

This is a prevention measure from Dalton - he surely wants to keep his team together and avoid the wrongs of 2003.

Dalton is a shrewd, smart businessman and a proud Kiwi to boot - he's proved that. 

He may well include a demand that the Cup be defended in Auckland in the 38th edition, as part of a deal signed with the bidder that wins the host city sweepstake.

That will come out in the wash, but if this decision leads to another successful campaign, then can we really blame him?

Dalton wants to win and that's good enough. We'll all be watching. 

Brad Lewis is a Newshub online sports producer