By Ian Ransom
(Reuters) - Having retained the America's Cup, New Zealand hopes to lock down the defence of the 'Auld Mug' in home waters amid reports the Royal Yacht Squadron, which represents Ben Ainslie's INEOS Team UK, has already been accepted as the Challenger of Record.
After Team New Zealand completed a 7-3 win over challenger Luna Rossa on Wednesday, the New Zealand government was quick to pledge funding to keep the sailing outfit intact -- but with strings attached.
"It would be subject to a number of conditions, including an expectation the Cup will be defended in New Zealand," Stuart Nash, the minister responsible for the America's Cup, said in a statement.
British newspaper The Times reported the Royal Yacht Squadron was the next Challenger of Record, which would see Team UK play a part in organising the Challenger Series and drafting the terms of the next match.
Local media have reported the next match might be held outside New Zealand, with Team UK funding a one-off race against TNZ around the Isle of Wight, the site of the original race in 1851.
Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron General Manager Hayden Porter confirmed to New Zealand media the club had accepted a challenge but declined to name from where.
"There's a lot of details to come; discussions will evolve over the next few days, weeks and months and things will happen from there," he told Newstalk ZB.
Much will depend on the level of government support TNZ boss Grant Dalton can negotiate as potential challengers circle to poach talent from the crew, designers and engineers behind the winning 'Te Rehutai' yacht.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic impact of the 2021 match will fall well short of organisers' original expectations.
More than 20,000 international visitors were expected to pump NZ$1 billion ($723.50 million) into the economy but due to New Zealand's strict border controls and travel restrictions those numbers would have been negligible.
Some 370,000 people visited the America's Cup village in Auckland over the course of the 15 race days, despite an untimely seven-day COVID-19 lockdown in the city that stretched into the start of the month.
Another home defence would likely be well attended but taxpayers might be less enthused by another budget in the order of the NZ$249.5 million for the 2021 match.
Nash told state broadcaster TVNZ it was money well spent, citing the unquantifiable branding effect.
"There would have been a whole lot of people sitting in lockdown in their COVID winter watching New Zealanders out on the Hauraki Gulf having a fantastic time and saying, 'You know what, when the borders open that's where I want to be,'" he said.
($1 = 1.3822 New Zealand dollars)
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford)