Airlines are very visible in the world of sports and spend vast amounts of money on sports sponsorship opportunities. As I have covered in other articles, see articles about big spenders in sports sponsorship and the football shirt sponsorship market, the prominent airline brand in that sense proves to be Emirates that supposedly spends approximately €200 mio.* in 22 deals (Sports Sponsorship Insider, 2016). This marks a huge gap to Etihad, which comes in as no. 2 in that airline sports sponsorship category measured on spending.
Table 1: estimated airlines spending on major sports sponsorship deals (Sports Sponsorship Insider, 2016)
The accumulated value of the 67 transactions accounted for €398 mio. So, Emirates lead the way followed by Etihad and then Korean Air with a spending of €46 mio. and Qatar Airways with a spending of €34 mio. per year. Emirates has recently become the title sponsor of the English FA Cup to add to its strong football (soccer) portfolio and is now also the official sponsor of the Arabian Gulf League in football while the brand has optimized its partnership with the ATP World Tour in tennis. Given these numbers and actions, Emirates has maintained a sponsorship strategy of emphasizing high-exposure and prestigious co-branded sponsorship platforms in contrast to spending huge sums on enhanced activation.
I expect that we will continue to see Emirates as a strong player within this context while seeing Turkish Airlines intensify its sports sponsorship strategy. Turkish Airlines has deals with properties like the UEFA 2016 European Championship (UEFA, 2016), Borussia Dortmund from the German Bundesliga, and Marseille from the French Ligue 1 and different basketball deals (Turkish Airlines, 2016). As with other airlines, one of the arguments for these deals is associated with the significance of destinations for the airline. Consequent, many Asian airlines link up with football properties given the growing popularity of football in that part of the world. For instance, Garuda’s partnership with Liverpool FC, see video below, with the rights to the training kits strives to target fans across Southeast Asia, which account for 54% of the airline’s destinations. On the other hand, the US-based airlines mainly spend the sports sponsorship dollars on US properties in the five major leagues. This is illustrated by the commercial partnership between the New York Yankees (MLB) and Delta Airlines or those between the New England Patriots (NFL), Boston Bruins (NHL) Boston Celtics (NBA) and JetBlue Airlines. Such deals are typically characterized by value-in-kind sponsorships in which the airlines assist the teams with handling their demanding travel commitments. JetBlue’s deals with the Boston-based major league teams exemplify good meaning for the largest airline in Boston, as this is a perfect strategy to serve its local community while driving business.
Below, you will find a few examples of how different airlines activate their sports investments:
*Readers should keep in mind that information about the value of the sports sponsorship deals has not been available for all deals within this sector. However, the figures portray the majority of the sponsorship spending of each of the airline brands.