If you spend $100M on a racing yacht, don't lose

Larry Ellison of Team Oracle USA escaped that fate by narrowly winning the America's Cup, but New Zealand's entry suffered just such an indignity.

By Bruce Kennedy Sep 27, 2013 9:55AM

Oracle CEO Larry Ellison holds up the Auld Mug on podium as the crew celebrates after Oracle Team USA won the America's Cup sailing event over Emirates Team New Zealand on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, in San Francisco (© Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)Yachting isn't exactly the Great American Pastime when it comes to sports and entertainment, but the recently concluded America's Cup in San Francisco Bay garnered more than its share of headlines and attention across the U.S. this week.

Part of the event's appeal was the spectacular, come-from-way-behind, nine-straight-wins-in-a-row victory by Oracle Team USA, financed by billionaire Larry Ellison (pictured with trophy), over its New Zealand challengers. As the Kiwis deal with their epic choke, they don't go away completely empty-handed: The New Zealand and San Francisco economies -- along with Ellison's competitive reputation -- clearly benefited.

The Oracle (ORCL) co-founder and chief executive is one of the richest people in the world and has a thing for boats. This year's America's Cup racing yachts, 72-foot-long catamarans, cost between $8 million and $10 million. Ellison has spent far more than that on his entry.

"Someone once asked me if it's worth $100 million to win the America’s Cup," Ellison said in a recent documentary. "It’s certainly not worth $100 million to lose the America's Cup."

A big problem for the yacht-racing world is these new state-of-the-art boats have made an already costly sport prohibitively expensive.

Team New Zealand managing director Grant Dalton told Bloomberg his team's America's Cup challenge cost around $100 million, funded mostly by corporate and private sponsors, although the New Zealand government contributed about a third of that cost. He added that expenses will continue to be a challenge. "You need something that's more realistic price-wise," he said.

New Zealand did gain economically from competing in America's Cup, however. Its companies built not only New Zealand's America's Cup challenger but several other catamarans in the event -- bringing in around $290 million. "New Zealanders built the winning boat," Peter Busfield, executive director of the Marine Industry Association, told Bloomberg. "We’re still on top of the world, we just don't have the silverware."

Host town San Francisco may not see the $1.4 billion economic windfall it had hoped America's Cup would bring, but it certainly won't end up in the red.

According to KGO-TV, the most recent projections for the event, released in April, called for the race to generate about $900 million in economic activity for the Bay area. Analysts expect a final tally in November.

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