Dubai carrier happy to back a racing winner

Emirates Airline commits to a further round of sponsorship of the yacht racing team Emirates Team New Zealand.

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Emirates Airline has committed to a further round of sponsorship of Emirates Team New Zealand, the yacht racing team that has contested the America's Cup among other competitions. From the winner's podium of the Louis Vuitton Trophy a week ago on Sunday, Grant Dalton, the team's chief executive, announced: "We have had confirmation of the funds we need to challenge for, and hopefully win, the next America's Cup, wherever and whenever it will be."

For Emirates, that means a further four to five-year commitment to a relationship that began in 2004. Neither Mr Dalton nor Stuart Priestley, the sponsorship manager for Emirates, would be drawn on the sum involved but experts said the new figure would be more than the US$35 million (Dh128.5m) generally believed to have been committed to the 2007 Valencia campaign. A competitive challenge for the next Cup is expected to cost significantly more than $100m.

In the meantime, the team continues to fly the Emirates flag with campaigns in the TP52 Audi MedCup series and Louis Vuitton Trophy - the latter costing entrants about $300,000 for each of the four regattas a year. The relationship between sponsor and team has been unusually close over the past six years, but that was no guarantee it would continue beyond this year, according to Mr Preistley. A few days before Emirates Team New Zealand (ETNZ) won the Louis Vuitton Trophy, he said: "Even now, we can't assume when or where the next America's Cup will be or even if we will participate."

In addition to its fee for naming rights, Emirates spends a "very significant" amount on maximising the benefits of its association with ETNZ, said Mr Priestley. It is a relationship that has overcome considerable odds. In 2003, the airline had just launched its Auckland service when Mr Dalton approached it. He was new at the helm at Team New Zealand (TNZ), which was in bad shape after losing the 2003 America's Cup to Alinghi.

"Emirates was completely unknown in New Zealand and we wanted to find something that would raise awareness within the destination," said Mr Priestley. "We knew sailing was big here and wasn't classed as elitist and we knew that TNZ was a successful brand, but our boss at the time was adamant that we did not do sailing." Last year Emirates launched its now-daily A380 service to Auckland, doubling its capacity to that destination.

Mr Priestley said that although sailing was not seen as elitist in New Zealand, its core audience was the airline's key target: premium-level travellers. The airline's association with ETNZ has led naturally to its sponsorship of this year's third Louis Vuitton Trophy regatta, to be held in Dubai in November, using the team's racing yachts. "This event would look great [in] Dubai and we hope the public will identify with our 'home' team."