Monday, April 19, 1999

HTA, yacht team
spar over state money

The tourism authority denies
Aloha Racing's claim that the
agency ignored its arguments

By Russ Lynch


Spending scarce funds to support the America's Cup yacht racing team from Hawaii would be money down the drain compared to other ways to promote the islands, top officials of the Hawaii Tourism Authority said over the weekend.

Aloha Racing, the team chosen to represent the Waikiki Yacht Club, says otherwise and scheduled a news conference today to push for state backing.

The team also has accused the HTA of not listening carefully enough to its arguments and making hasty statements that may damage the team's ability to raise money elsewhere.

Despite HTA's rejection last week of its request for $3 million in state funding, Aloha Racing has another chance at state money through a bill in the Legislature to grant it $1 million if the team gets $2 million elsewhere.

But John Reed, HTA chairman, said putting yachts in the water in New Zealand later this year just doesn't reach the standards required for HTA funding of sports events that might help promote Hawaii.

"It just doesn't cut it for any cut of our funding," Reed said in an interview.

He said the project was given careful study and did not come up to the return-on-investment standards set by the HTA.

"It would be irresponsible or even criminally negligent for us to give them $3 million," or any money at all, Reed said.

"We'd be betting on the bet that is the long shot of all long shots," that Aloha Racing's boat Abracadabra will make it through 16 preliminary challenge races into the America's Cup series against New Zealand.

But D.J. Cathcart, a spokeswoman for Aloha Racing, said the team doesn't have to win to make a huge impression on potential visitors to Hawaii. With a Hawaii logo on the sail and a Wyland painting covering the visible part of the hull, every time the boat is seen it will promote Hawaii, she said.

The early races will be broadcast internationally on ESPN, reaching millions worldwide, and Hawaii will get its $3 million back in publicity from the 16 preliminary races alone, even if Aloha Racing doesn't make it into the finals, she said.

It will be running the 16 races anyway, she said, and has a good chance of winning everything.

Mark Rolfing, chairman of the HTA committee analyzing sports events whose organizers have requested funding, said the committee did take a thorough look at Aloha Racing's plans and gave them the same hard evaluation that the other proposals received. "I analyzed it based on them winning all 16 races," Rolfing said. The results fell well short "compared to the kind of exposure you'd get from one of our golf tournaments," Rolfing said yesterday.

Rolfing, a golf consultant who was in Florida this weekend doing television commentary for a PGA tournament, said he just wasn't convinced that yacht racing in New Zealand would be that much help to Hawaii.

Aloha Racing said it will get at least 9 hours of television coverage on ESPN. The Mercedes Championship golf tournament will get 10.5 hours and that is costing HTA only $200,000, Rolfing said.

Cathcart said Aloha Racing is disappointed with the things HTA has been saying because it doesn't think the evaluation was all that careful. "The tourism authority has seriously damaged our ability to raise funds," she said. "To say there's no value, that's damaging. It seriously limits our ability to be competitive," in a world competition for yacht-race backing.

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