Emirates is expanding its sponsorship in sailing with a three-year deal to become the title partner of Sir Ben Ainslie’s British team in the SailGP global league.
The squad will be known as Emirates Great Britain SailGP Team starting with this weekend’s regatta in Sydney. The team showed off the new red and white color scheme and the Emirates logo on the wingsail and hulls as it sailed its foiling 50-foot catamaran past the Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge on Thursday.
It’s a breakthrough team title sponsorship in SailGP, which was co-founded by tech tycoon Larry Ellison and five-time America’s Cup winner Russell Coutts and has three regattas left in its third season, which will culminate in a $1 million, winner-take-all championship race at the end of the San Francisco regatta in early May.
The announcement of the Emirates deal in Sydney came a day after SailGP announced that Rolex has signed a 10-season partnership as the global presenting partner as well as the title sponsor of the opening regatta of Season 4, the Rolex United States Sail Grand Prix in Chicago on June 16-17.
“I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say that Emirates is one of a handful, if not the biggest and most prestigious brands in sports sponsorship,” Ainslie said in an interview with The Associated Press. “So, for our team to be associated with that is a massive statement. We’re incredibly proud to now be partnered with Emirates. We’ve talked a lot about the collaboration that we’re looking to set up with our team with like-minded partners that really want to come together and share a lot of these challenges around sustainability.”
Emirates has sponsored Team New Zealand in the America’s Cup since 2004. The Kiwis are the two-time defending champions.
“We’ve always been interested in growing our sports portfolio in the UK,” Emirates chief marketing officer Boutros Boutros said in an email. “We’re proud sponsors of Arsenal and Emirates FA Cup; and we also support cricket, tennis and golf across the country. When Ben reached out with an opportunity to expand our presence into the sailing world, we were very interested.”
Boutros said he attended SailGP’s first-ever Middle East regatta in Dubai, which is Emirates’ home base, in mid-November “and was amazed at the large audience the sport attracts, and also the great potential this partnership can have. Sailing is also one of the most sustainable sports in the world and that’s a key part of our collaboration. We look forward to working closely with like-minded partners to share challenges, ideas and drive joint sustainability initiatives.”
Ainslie is the most-decorated sailor in Olympic history, with four gold medals and a silver. He helped Oracle Team USA successfully defend the America’s Cup in 2013 in a stirring comeback against Emirates Team New Zealand and has led his own British team since 2017 in the competition for the oldest trophy in international sports.
Ainslie is the majority owner of Emirates Great Britain SailGP Team and has made big strides on the business side in recent months. He obtained a significant injection of private investment late last year, meaning Ellison’s Oracle Racing no longer owns any portion of the team. Ainslie also signed a three-year partnership with renewable energy company Low Carbon to aid his team’s quest to become the most sustainable elite sports team in the world.
“To bring in Emirates with our team as title partner is a really strong fit, not only for our team but the league and showcase the level the league is at that it can attract these sorts of partners,” Ainslie said.
On Jan. 30, Emirates successfully flew a Boeing 777 on a test flight with one of its two engines entirely powered by so-called sustainable fuel. Air carriers worldwide are trying to lessen their carbon footprint.
The Emirates deal puts Ainslie in a bit of a conundrum. Emirates supports Arsenal in the Premier League. “My home team is Chelsea, so I’m trying to decide whether that means I’m going to ditch Chelsea and start supporting Arsenal. I don’t know where that puts me. In trouble, I guess,” he quipped.
Emirates Great Britain SailGP Team is third in the nine-boat fleet heading into the Sydney regatta, behind two-time defending champion Team Australia and New Zealand.
Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson
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