A Kiwi champion of Team New Zealand within the Emirates groups knows all about the rocky road the sailing team has taken to win the America's Cup.

Gary Chapman has been one the driving forces behind the airline group's support since 2003 when the team first approached Emirates.

In Auckland for the Auld Mug's victory parade, Dubai-based Chapman is enjoying the moment. It's quiet satisfaction, something he's felt since being on a small tender in Bermuda watching the catamaran cross the finishing line last week.

"It was a 14-year journey. You felt vindication for going in and supporting the team and standing behind them - in some ways it was a little bit of relief, it was incredibly satisfying," said Chapman, who heads the airline's giant services division.


"It was like ticking an incredibly important box and that if you wanted to you could sail off into the sunset, a job well done."

Emirates became the naming rights sponsor in 2004, after being persuaded by Grant Dalton that it would be a good idea.

The team was rebuilding after meekly surrendering the Cup in early 2003, Dalton was trying to pull the remnants together as the rapidly expanding airline started to services to Auckland in August, 2003.

Chapman was persuaded by Emirates country manager, Chris Lethbridge, to get Dalton before marketing and sponsorship decision makers in the fast-growing airline.

"I did manage to get a meeting with people in Dubai. Those who know Grant will know he's a straight shooter, a straight talker - I don't think charm would be the right word," said Chapman

"He's got this dogged determination - he's got this steely approach to things and he's incredibly persuasive."

The stars aligned as Emirates was looking to boost its presence in a new market and wanted to expand its range of sports sponsorships around the world.

One part of Dalton's early pitch has stayed with Chapman, who stresses the decision to back Team New Zealand was a team effort.


Dalton told Dubai royal and Emirates' overall leader, Shiekh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, that New Zealand would triumph. Dalton pledged that his team "will get the Cup, we will win the Cup," said Chapman.

"That was sweet because when he came through Dubai on Monday and we did a gala dinner Shiekh Ahmed was there and sat with Grant and the team," said Chapman.

"It was payback for hanging in there and believing in him."

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge with former skipper Dean Barker in 2014.
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge with former skipper Dean Barker in 2014.

Originally from Auckland, Chapman has been with the Emirates group for 28 years.

He will not say what the airline has paid to be the main sponsor - alongside others including Toyota - but it is estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars.

Among other sponsorships, the airline is behind football giants AC Milan, Arsenal, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, is a sponsor of the Rugby World Cup, cricket and horse racing, including the Melbourne Cup.

Branding over the Team New Zealand boat gives Emirates exposure to a high-end market, important for an airline which places a big emphasis on its premium cabins.

"I don't think people in New Zealand know how global Emirates Team New Zealand is. Sailing is not like football but for anyone in the sailing world it is the most powerful brand out there."

The success of the sailors is important for the proud New Zealander but the airline's support has to meet commercial thresholds.

That was put to the test in San Francisco four years ago.

As Emirates Team New Zealand's seemingly cast iron grip on the Cup weakened with Oracle's comeback, Chapman endured the most emotionally draining sporting experience of his life.

"Ironically in San Francisco it was almost a non-event until when things started to change. While at a personal level I would have been happy to win 9-1, from a sponsors' perspective what happened raised the ratings and awareness far more."

It was like ticking an incredibly important box and that if you wanted to you could sail off into the sunset, a job well done.

He's able to joke about it now, but the same thing happened in the challengers' series in the Great Sound off Bermuda when the Kiwi team cartwheeled forward, coming close to wrecking the boat.

He joked with helmsman Peter Burling that his foresight was incredible: "You're looking after the sponsors so well by giving us that extra publicity by pitch polling. You are really securing the future of sponsorship."

Persuading colleagues at Emirates to stay loyal hasn't been hard - even after the close loss in Valencia in 2007 and the heartbreak of 2013, Chapman said. The airline always looks for long-term partnerships but legal action in the leadup to San Francisco did test some of the airline's resolve.

"People were naturally questioning why are we involved in this - it wasn't going anywhere, it's all in court. We managed to hang in there and stay a sponsor," he said.

"In business you can be absolutely clinical or take a partnership view of things and frankly at Emirates it's a partnership. You endure things through tough times."

The bitter fallout within New Zealand from San Francisco didn't get much coverage overseas and positive publicity from a royal visit from Prince William and his wife Kate to the team base in 2014 helped Emirates decide to continue its support.

Chapman said there are parallels between the airline and Team New Zealand.

Emirates was formed in formed in October, the year before Team New Zealand's forerunner KZ7 began this country's quest for the Cup which was no longer in the United States.

Gary Chapman with Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker and Grant Dalton in 2008.
Gary Chapman with Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker and Grant Dalton in 2008.

"That period had two things happening - the sailing world was going through significant change and up pops Emirates changing the dynamics of the whole aviation industry."

He said like Team NZ, Emirates "was not born with a silver spoon".

The airline prided itself as an pioneer of technological innovation, strong leadership and independence.

"We did it our way - as Emirates we never got involved in the big alliances - we did it our way, and innovation, and turned the aviation world up side down."

Like the airline, Team NZ has been a "lone wolf".

Chapman said Emirates would work through the business case before recommitting to extended sponsorship but had enjoyed the profile Team New Zealand had given it over the years and there were tangible benefits. Passengers had told him they were flying Emirates because of the airline's support for the sailors.

Private benefactors and sponsors had kept the team afloat.

"That doesn't just happen. To be honest if any one of them had fallen away I don't know if we'd be sitting here today."