Skift Take

One explanation for the Gulf airlines' visibility on sports fields could stem from their absence in alliances, which may have pushed them to find meaningful partnerships outside of aviation. It's interesting to the note that Qatar was the first one to join an alliance, and it currently sponsors only one sports team.

The three Gulf region airline biggies Emirates Airlines, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways, and adjacent cousin Turkish Airlines again outperformed their competitors in terms of capacity and passenger growth throughout 2012.

Their hubs’ locations in the crosshairs of Europe, Asia, and Africa undoubtedly contribute to their rapid growth, but their brand recognition lags those of many airlines around for decades before them. The brains behind these airlines have seemingly found the fastest way to get their names in front as many eyeballs as possible: sports.

The four airlines hold more than one hundred sponsorship deals with some of the most visible and prominent sports teams, events, stadiums, and cultural festivals in the world.

Other global airlines including QantasLufthansa, and Air Asia sponsor sports teams and cultural events, but none of the magnitude of those sponsored by these Middle Eastern carriers. With all four airlines growing faster than the their competitors, it’s difficult to argue that these multi-million dollar sponsorships are wasteful.

Emirates is everywhere

On Tuesday, Emirates signed a five-year branding deal with Formula One motor racing. This is just one of its 70+ sponsorships deals, which is more than 6 times the sponsorships of any other Gulf airline.

Emirates’ biggest focus is on football (soccer in America) with current shirt sponsorships deals with some of the hottest football clubs in the world including AC Milan, Paris St Germain, and Arsenal. It’s also been an Official FIFA Worldwide Partner since 2007 providing the airline tons of publicity during organization’s many events, including the World Cup.

The partnerships also help the football clubs, which rely on the boost in funding since ticket sales barely cover the salaries of superstars, despite their global prominence.

Emirates Chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum said at the Formula One signing ceremony, “We are looking at sponsorship of more sports in the future if we feel this will promote Dubai and promote Emirates.”

Emirates’ total sports sponsorships are valued at $272.25 million for 2013.

Stadiums and singing houses

The region’s other airlines sponsor also a number of prominent sports teams and stadiums.

Etihad currently has nine sponsorships, including  a three-year, multi-million dollar partnership with the Sydney Opera House signed just last week. The deal complements the airline’s $6 million marketing agreement with Tourism Australia.

This summer, Etihad also signed a five-year extension to keep its name on Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium. The original deal is said to have been valued somewhere between $5 million and $8 million per year.

Turkish Airlines’ name doesn’t appear on the shirts of any major football stars at the moment. It became an official sponsor of FC Barcelona and replaced Air Asia as Manchester United’s official sponsor within weeks of one another in 2010. Its partnership with Manchester was sealed in an estimated $4.2 million deal.

Controversial partnerships

The lucrative sponsorship deals with Gulf airlines has set off a stream of criticisms for several football clubs.

In 2011, Etihad signed an estimated £400 million sponsorship deal with Manchester City, the largest deal of its kind in football history. A European watchdog group made a lot of noise about its disapproved of the sponsorship due to the direct association between Etihad and City’s ownership.

When Qatar Airways shows up on the jerseys of FC Barcelona players next month, it will be the first time that a corporation, rather than a charity, will claim the prime real estate. The five-year deal is valued at $169 million.

In response to criticism of the club’s new corporate sponsor, Barcelona’s financial VP said, “We would much rather have an airline from this area than a betting company,” in reference to Real Madrid’s sponsor Bwin.

Below is a list of Emirates’ partners separated by sport, followed by a list of Etihad’s, Qatar’s, and Turkish Airlines’ partners:


  • FIFA
  • Asian Football Confederation (AFC)
  • Arsenal FC & Emirates Stadium
  • AC Milan
  • Paris Saint-Germain
  • Hamburger SV
  • Real Madrid C.F.
  • Olympiacos FC
  • Arsenal Soccer Schools Dubai
  • The Emirates Cup
  • Zain Saudi Professional League


  • Emirates Western Force (Australia)
  • USA Rugby
  • HSBC Sevens World Series
  • IRB Referees and Match Officials


  • Emirates Airline US Open Series
  • Dubai Tennis Championships
  • Rogers Cup
  • BNP Paribas Open
  • Internazionali BNL d’Italia

Horse Racing

  • Dubai International Racing Carnival
  • Dubai World Cup
  • Emirates Melbourne Cup
  • Emirates Singapore Derby
  • Victoria Racing Club
  • Title Sponsor of the Emirates
  • Godolphin Horseracing Stable


  • The Ryder Cup (EU)
  • UBS Hong Kong Open
  • DP World Tour Championship
  • BMW International Open 2012 (Germany)
  • Japan Open
  • WGC-HSBC Champions
  • Emirates Australian Open Championship
  • Australian PGA Championship
  • Austrian Golf Open
  • Avantha Masters (India)
  • Ballantine’s Championship
  • Barclays Singapore Open
  • Maybank Malaysian Open
  • Thailand Open
  • Alstom Open de France
  • Irish Open
  • Boeing Classic (US)


  • Durham County Cricket Club
  • ICC Umpires
  • Lord’s Taverners
  • Deccan Chargers
  • ICC Cricket World Cups
  • ICC Champions Trophy
  • ICC World Twenty20
  • Pro Arch Tournament


  • Emirates Team New Zealand

Australian Rules Football

  • Collingwood Football Club

Arts & Culture

  • Melbourne Australian Symphony Orchestra
  • Sydney Australian Symphony Orchestra
  • San Francisco Symphony
  • Dubai International Film Festival
  • Emirates Airline Festival of Literature
  • Skywards Dubai International Jazz Festival
  • KidZania
  • Dubai Summer Surprises [annual shopping festival]
  • Emirates Air Line [London’s first urban cable car system]

Below is a list of Etihad’s, Qatar’s, and Turkish Airlines’ partners:

Etihad Airways

  • Manchester City Football Club (UK)
  • Etihad Stadium (Australia)
  • F1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
  • Abu Dhabi Golf Championship
  • Sport Australia Hall of Fame
  • Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) Hurling All Ireland Senior Championship
  • Harlequins RFC (UK)
  • Abu Dhabi Harlequins Rugby Union Football Club
  • Etihad Junior Rugby Festival

Turkish Airlines

  • FC Barcelona
  • Manchester United
  • Turkish Airline Euroleague
  • 2010 FIBA World Championship

Qatar Airlines

  • Barcelona FC


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Tags: emirates air, etihad, qatar airways, sports, turkish airlines

Photo credit: Ashburton Grove in north London became known as Emirates Stadium when the Arsenals signed a £100 million sponsorship deal with the airlines in 2004. Lloyd Morgan / Flickr

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