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The race to win the America's Cup sailing prize in New Zealand is more than two years away, but the competition to raise funds from private and corporate sponsors is already getting hot.

At least six U.S. teams and approximately 13 others from around the world are jockeying to gather $20 million to $40 million each to field crews to attempt to wrest the prize from New Zealand, which is pouring vast sums into its own efforts to keep it.

Postponed by one year to allow New Zealand time to dredge harbors and build facilities to host the event in Auckland in February 2000, the next America's Cup is already one of the most highly anticipated contests in the series, which began in 1851.


Although private backers have always played a big role in supporting teams, operations costs have soared so high that corporate sponsorship is now vital to maintaining a team, say contenders.

"Designing and building the fastest boat has become a high-tech battleground between countries . . . we have no choice but to turn to corporate sponsors now as if we were an Olympic team," said James Reilly, senior VP-marketing for Young America, the New York Yacht Club's contender.

A new rule limits teams to building only two boats, vs. unlimited boats that cost teams as much as $70 million per team in 1995, say sailing insiders.

In July, Young America signed Helly Hansen, the Norway-based apparel marketer, as its official clothier. The team is now in discussions to sign up to six marketers to major sponsorships in categories that may include the automotive, communications, computer and package-goods sectors, among others.


"The old paradigm for sailing sponsorship was offering hospitality, signage and an attractive venue. But sponsorship has become so sophisticated that we have to offer sales and market share gains, merchandising, licensing, promotions and integrated marketing in order to get corporations interested," Mr. Reilly said.

San Francisco's St. Francis Yacht Club has already signed Silicon Graphics and Science Applications International Corp. as sponsors of its AmericaOne team, and several more deals are pending.

Many marketers are awaiting details of TV coverage before declaring sponsorship programs, said Bill Trenkle, VP-sailing operations for San Diego's Team Dennis Conner, which had Sears, Roebuck & Co., Cadillac, Citizen Watch and Ocean Spray Cranberries among its sponsors during its 1995 America's Cup challenge.

"It's still very early in the process, but we'll definitely be looking toward sponsors soon," Mr. Trenkle said.


But other teams say they can't afford to wait: "We're in the process of getting sponsors and we're getting very creative," said a spokeswoman for the Waikiki Yacht Club's Aloha Racing team, which already has Blue Star Line shipping and HealthSouth as sponsors.

The State of Hawaii is also taking an active role in helping Aloha Racing prepare for its America's Cup challenge, she said.

Young America recently launched a Web site ( where merchandise can be purchased and a school curriculum program that's helping drive early awareness of the team.

"The event begins now, even though the race is more than two years away," Mr.

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