A fundraising appeal to send Team New Zealand to the next America's Cup to sort out "unfinished business" has raised more than $8500 in less than 24 hours, and its organiser hopes to hit $1 million.
Kia Kaha Media CEO Ned Dawson, 46, might be Team New Zealand's biggest supporter - he has missed only the 2007 Valencia regatta since he first attended the America's Cup in San Diego in 1995.
He was in San Francisco for the recent regatta, and at Auckland Airport at dawn this morning to welcome Team New Zealand home.
"I just said to [Dean Barker], 'Thanks, mate, you're an inspiration to a lot of Kiwis'. They're all just incredibly humble guys," he told Fairfax Media.
Dawson launched the GiveaLittle campaign yesterday, after starting up Facebook pages supporting Team New Zealand that now have a collective fan base of more than 60,000 people.
"We were at the stage where we were getting 50 to 100 messages a day from people asking where they could donate money," he said.
The campaign asks for donations of "$2, $5, $10, $20 or whatever you want, every single dollar goes to Team New Zealand to help fund its challenge for the 35th America's Cup".
"We're trying to get as much money donated as possible and that will be the seed money to convince Team New Zealand to go back for the next one.
"We want to say to them 'Look, New Zealand is behind you, so you have to go back, you can't back out. I think our boat should be called 'Unfinished Business'."
After it lost 9-8 to Oracle in the America's Cup last week, Team New Zealand has an uncertain future.
Skipper Dean Barker wants to stay with the team, but boss Grant Dalton had said defeat would mean the end of the team.
The Government is yet to commit to another challenge, after providing $36 million to the last one, but has not ruled it out.
Dawson said the San Francisco races were "one of those things you just had to be there to experience".
"I was standing on the end of the wharf when we won our last race. I just felt so sorry for the guys, when it was 8-1, 8-2, 8-3, 8-4, I just thought, 'we've got to get this sorted'."
New Zealand need a chance to have another crack at the cup, he said.
"The team were so disheartened and felt they had let New Zealand down, and [Grant Dalton] was saying this might be the end of Team New Zealand.
"The America's Cup wouldn't be the same without Team New Zealand ... You wouldn't see the Rugby World Cup without the All Blacks."
Raising $1m was within reach with America's Cup fever still in the air, Dawson said.
"This has galvanised the nation again.
"Over the last two weeks of the America's Cup, you tell me how many Kiwis weren't sitting in front of the TV captivated by what was going on."
Team New Zealand spokesman Warren Douglas told Fairfax Media they were unaware of the fundraising appeal.
"It was news to us although we have heard a few supporters' Facebook pages have been started."
In the first day, the campaign had raised more than $8500 from 83 individual donations.
The Telecom Foundation will hold the funds in trust until Team New Zealand launches its challenge for the next America's Cup, Dawson said.
Meanwhile Barker said it would be a "tragedy" if Team New Zealand was to be disbanded.
Barker was speaking at Auckland Airport this morning, where a large crowd of fans gathered to welcome the team home.
"It would be a real tragedy if Team New Zealand wasn't able to continue, it's very much part of the America's Cup, and I don't think an event without us there would be the incredible event," he said.
"If Team New Zealand is able to continue, and ideally I hope it does, I would love to be a part of it, but it's not my decision."
Sonia Waddell, the wife of Team NZ grinder Rob Waddell, who also arrived home today, said the effect of the loss had been "gut-wrenching".
"Obviously that final result is gut-wrenching and it's still very, very hard and it will take some time to process and find the positives. At the moment it's still very raw," she said.
"We're incredibly proud, I think the whole team, not just the sailors, but the designers and shore crew who have put in incredible hours, we're incredibly proud of what they've achieved for the team and the country."
The campaign can be found at: http://www.givealittle.co.nz/cause/teamnzac35
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