If Sausalito Challenge cannot muster that much cash, it looks like the United States will be represented by just one team in 2007. San Francisco-based BMW Oracle Racing, skippered by New Zealand's Chris DICKSON and backed by Silicon Valley billionaire Larry ELLISON and the German car manufacturer, is considered one of the top challengers for the oldest trophy in international sport. Their challenge has already been accepted by Swiss Defenders, Alinghi along with eight other teams.
Dennis CONNER (USA), a four-time America's Cup winner, has said he is likely going to be priced out of the next cup, which will be held in Valencia, Spain. Syndicate budgets have been blown out of the stratosphere since a handful of billionaires got involved during the 2003 America's Cup. Alinghi is backed by a Swiss biotech tycoon.
SWEENEY said he is negotiating with an American soft drink company, an Asian electronics company and a German industrial firm. 'We have a pretty good indication that one would step up, but not a good indication that one would step up in time,' he said. 'If we had another month, then there'd be time. But unfortunately, we don't.'
Sausalito Challenge is not alone in walking the plank. The German syndicate, Fresh 17 and a combined French-Chinese team based on 2003 Challengers, Le Defi and provisionally named China Team, are also trying to raise cash before the deadline.
'Everybody's out there trying to find money,' SWEENEY said. 'It's going to be a crazy nine days ahead of us.'
Earlier this year, Sausalito Challenge offered a 'celebrity crew' position for anyone willing pay at least 10 million euros, or approximately $13 million. SWEENEY said he received only two serious inquiries, and neither went for it.
Last year, Sausalito Challenge tried to find an exclusive sponsor through bidding on the internet auction site, eBay but no one met the reserve price.
SWEENEY said he and his business partner, Tina KLEINJAN, have funded the challenge the last two years with just under $10 million of their own and cannot go on without a sponsor. KLEINJAN, who owns and runs Sausalito Challenge, also is on the sailing team.
'It's one of those passions where if you listen too much to your heart, you could end up broke,' SWEENEY said. 'I'm not a billionaire. If I was, it wouldn't be an issue. The test of any business is at some point it has to stand on its own. We want to see a company that shares in our vision that can also help us.'
SWEENEY would like to raise between $5 million and $10 million by next Friday, which would help the challenge get through the year.
'At this point we need to get some money from somebody to help us be viable. Not only that, but for the event itself. They want to see us sign up with sponsors rather than just sign up with a bond, then disappear,' he said.
Ultimately, his goal is to raise $50 million to $60 million.
A series of warmup regattas began last summer in Europe and will continue with the Louis Vitton Acts 4 & 5 this June.