The America's Cup -- building boon or boo-hoo?

There has been heaps of hype around the America's Cup, but beyond our national ego and sporting competitiveness, there is one very practical reason to hope Emirates Team New Zealand can somehow pull one out of the bag

The America's Cup was a balm and an emotional boon last week – a fun way to start the day and a national ego boost. It became a much more grim vigil; a duty of hope. And after this morning, despair has set in.

But why does it even matter to us? Of course we love our sport. As a country, we love to box above our weight and show that we can compete on a world stage. It's in our DNA to take pride in the little guy who over-achieves. Psychologically, we are a David looking for our next Goliath, and in this case it looked like Larry Ellison and Oracle Team USA were going to be felled with a single stone. Only this Goliath got back up.

Which explains why we care, but still, beyond the feel good factor, does it really matter? Those on board Emirates Team New Zealand are not New Zealand's best sailors selected to represent our country. They're phenomenal of course, but there are also great Kiwi sailors are on Oracle. The best Kiwi yacht designers are working for both teams – indeed the increasingly infamous boatbuilders from Warkworth seem to have been decisive in Oracle's comeback. The whole event has been a great ad for our boat industry, regardless of the winner.

And as we note in the team name, the corporate sponsor comes first. This is, as the America's Cup has always been, a rich man's indulgence.

But behind the hope of sporting glory comes the much more tangible hope of economic gain. If 'we' win the America's Cup, 'we' get to sail the next regatta back here in New Zealand and that means money. Lots of money.

Or does it? The economic expectations around sporting events always seem to come with a fair bit of froth on top. The talk last week was already of around half a billion dollars.

But as Fairfax reported:

"Shane Vuletich of Covic, specialist in economic evaluation of tourism and major events, who warns numbers already being used are far too large."

Vuletich says last year's Volvo Ocean Race was over-hyped. I remember covering the 2005 Lions tour for the New Zealand Listener and finding much the same thing. There was talk of tens of thousands of fans and a fleet of camper vans stretching along SH1. The figure was well short of that, leaving a sour taste in the mouth for some hospitality folk who had prepared for more. The same thing happened at our last America's Cup as well.

And you can see the same arguments happening in San Francisco. Predictions from even earlier this year have not been met, when two million attendees were expected. But official figures by the start of the month were only 500,000 visits to the two official venues, but had climbed to 870,000 by the weekend. City official say you can double that if you counted people watching from public spaces.

The city accepts it may barely break even on the money spent, but there's debate over its impact. One councillor says the Cup's legacy for San Francisco is "debt". But another, David Chiu, told the San Francisco Chronicle:

“While we hope to break even, if we have to spend a little, the America’s Cup brought hundreds of thousands of visitors and hundreds of millions of dollars in local spending that we otherwise wouldn’t have seen. I think that was worth it.”

But like the winds of San Francisco Bay, any claims of financial profit for Auckland and New Zealand would be fickle and hard to read. NZIER's Shamubeel Eaqub predicts that claims of economic windfalls for the next America's Cup in New Zealand will be based on "over-hyped studies that are proven to be absolute b........ after the fact."

But here's the thing. These events aren't really about profits and business boosts. The costs can often over-rise the gains, except in one area. And this is why I've had my fingers crossed this week for a Team New Zealand win: Infrastructure.

These events compel central and local governments to spend and build. The first America's Cup gave Auckland the Viaduct Basin. Another one could give the Tank Farm redevelopment steroids. It would be great for Auckland's waterfront development.

In San Francsico, the Chronicle reported that this regatta:

spurred the city to complete more than $180 million in long-planned improvements around the waterfront, the most notable being a new cruise ship terminal at Pier 27.

And in the long-term that's why this racing matters -- the potential growth spurt it offers Auckland. That may now seem unlikely, but from a New Zealand perspective, that's what ETNZ is sailing for tomorrow.