The Government appears to be strengthening its resolve to back Team New Zealand in another America's Cup bid.
Thousands of fans flocked to Auckland's waterfront this afternoon to give Dean Barker and his team a warm official welcome home from their mammoth effort in San Francisco.
Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce welcomed the crew home in a packed event at Shed 10 by pledging Government support for Team NZ's next America's Cup challenge.
"While you didn't achieve everything you set out to, you did win the hearts of this nation,'' he said to the thousands of fans.
"Not just of our nation, but the hearts of the USA and everyone else who watched this contest."
Excitement started to brew in the crowd when Mr Joyce said he had a "special message".
"This country and this Government stands ready to be part of the next America's Cup challenge.
"As I've said to Grant and Dean 'you've got a lot of work to do'. I said 'work on a proposal and we'll help you out with it'."
Mr Joyce commended the team members on their tenacity, commitment and integrity.
The dignified way Dean Barker and his crew behaved in the face of such a disappointing outcome was cause for great admiration, he said.
Despite the result, Team NZ had nearly pulled off a "massive upset", Mr Joyce said.
Team NZ skipper Dean Barker told the crowd he had never been so proud to be a New Zealander.
"I know - and I speak for the rest of the team - we went to San Francisco to win the America's Cup and we didn't do that. But the messages of support, the strength of the emotion and humbling words that so many of us have received, we can never thank you enough and it definitely gives us the strength to go on."
The team knew there was a "huge amount of incredible good will" in New Zealand, but they didn't really understand the extent of what was happening back home, Barker said.
"But it's really remarkable how many people have been touched and getting involved in our sport, and it makes us incredibly proud to think you have been following what we were doing.
"We would have loved to have brought the Cup back and have it sitting here right now, but your support has been absolutely phenomenal."
Syndicate head Grant Dalton said the support the team had received from everyone, including sponsors and the Government, had been "remarkable".
He particularly thanked the Government, saying "actually, they're good blokes" and "really nice people".
Auckland mayor Len Brown welcomed the team back to New Zealand, saying the crew had "united us" as a nation.
"We were with you on every tack, every gybe. We were leaning with you," he said. "We've all become experts on foiling, and we've all hated that moment when they cancelled our race too early."
TVNZ sailing commentator Peter Lester described the crew as "sailing heroes".
Fans were thrilled by the announcement that the Government was keen to help fund another challenge for the Cup.
Derryn Macleod said it was "fantastic news".
"I think it's good promotion for New Zealand's sailing industry. It gives sailors a future, something to aspire to and it's just incredibly good entertainment," she said.
"For little old New Zealand it's amazing what we achieve for a small country on a world-wide scale. So in my eyes, the team won."
Julie Bish, waiting with her sons Luca, 5, and Millen, 3, to catch a glimpse of Barker and the boys, said she was "really pleased" the Government would back the team again.
"I think it's really good for New Zealand. I think it, as we have seen over the past few weeks, brings everyone together,'' she said.
Nigel Greenwood said it was a "damn good idea" and would be "money well spent".
"The amount of advertising New Zealand got out of this is just outstanding, both with the boats and the place in general," he said.
"We built the boat that beat us. Technology in New Zealand is leading the way, and the Government has got to get in behind that."
People skipped work and travelled across town to be at Shed 10 for today's welcome.
Some waved New Zealand flags and others cheered as the kapa haka group performed a powhiri.
Dean Barker was all smiles as he waved to his fans - the first sighting of him on the big screen was met with a roar from the crowd.
Dave Dobbyn then took the stage to sing Loyal and Welcome Home.
"I was down here three days in a row hoping to play this song," he said before he sang Loyal.
North Shore neighbours Tracey Smith and Helen Shinegold had brought their five children down to see their heroes.
All avid fans of the team, the friends took their children to school early every day to watch the races.
"They go to Campbell's Bay School, and we all know who went there," Mrs Shinegold said of Dean Barker.
Today they were just excited to see the boys return home.
"[The team's] done a fantastic job," said the children's grandmother, Judith Shinegold.
AUT events management student Jackie Moses, 18, headed down from campus to welcome the team.
"I watched all the races. I even watched them again on demand.
"It's really exciting to be here, even though the outcome wasn't what we'd hoped."
It was great to see such a crowd of people showing their support for the team, she said.
"They deserve it."
After the official ceremony the team walked down Queen's Wharf past the crowds, some waving and shaking hands with fans.
Barker later came out and spent some time walking down the line as fans crammed against barriers to shake his hand. Shouts of "it's Dean, it's Dean" could be heard as those still on the wharf ran to the barriers to catch a glimpse of the skipper in person.