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01 April 2003

When your sponsored boat sinks

Just before it fades from our memories, it is useful to reflect on some of the commercial interests that surrounded Team New Zealand's unsuccessful defence of the America's Cup.

For the major sponsors, the down-sides of backing a losing team became apparent for the first time.

  • In the media the sponsors were blamed for the whitewash. One Sunday Star-Times article went so far as to brand them as lazy, self-important and belligerent, and a "handbrake of five which squeezed the life out of the defenders from the outset".
  • Their logos (and reputations) were linked with a jimcrack boat which was nearly swamped, had constant gear failures and always came last.
  • On talkback radio, and in the cafes and bars, the sponsors were associated with controversy and unpleasantness - not the least of it being the ill-conceived Black Heart campaign.


Sports sponsorship always has its risks. Winning streaks never last forever. Andrew Merhtens may describe your product as a "pig", or worse still, your star may commit a crime or be shown to be a drug cheat.

Any sponsorship strategy should have a contingency plan for dealing with these sorts of scenarios, even if it is as simple as keeping your head down until the storm passes over. But at the end of the day, sponsors only want to back winners - and no-one wants to be associated with gear that's poorly designed and breaks. That's even worse than backing a loser.

- Trevor Walton

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