Emirates airline has continued its aggressive spending on football shirt sponsorships in the off-season, signing deals with Spanish Primera Division club Real Madrid, French Ligue 1 side Paris Saint-Germain, and US club New York Cosmos.
As reported by Sports Sponsorship Insider last month, Emirates’ sponsorship spend as a proportion of its marketing budget is stratospheric compared to other brands in football – or anywhere else – and its expectations on return on investment are pretty high too.
But can Emirates really get a big enough bang for it sponsorship buck to justify such spending?
Emirates is now a shirt sponsor of a team in each of the top five European football leagues. Along with Real Madrid and PSG, Emirates sponsors English Premier League team Arsenal, and has the naming rights to the club’s stadium; Italian Serie A team AC Milan; and the German 1.Bundesliga’s Hamburger SV.
Boutros Boutros, the company’s divisional senior vice-president of corporate communications, who steers the airline’s sponsorship strategy, said that the investment was based on a belief that football, and particularly football shirt sponsorships, were the most effective platform for the company.
“First, we go to countries where we have frequent flights – England, Germany, France and Italy,” Boutros said.
But the airline also chooses teams, like Real Madrid, that resonate globally.
According to Boutros, the Real Madrid sponsorship is equally important outside Spain as within. “We are new in Spain, we have just started to fly there, but a lot of viewers in the Middle East watch the Spanish league,” he said. “Although the Real Madrid sponsorship is obviously important in Spain, it is also important globally. It is probably a 50:50 split.”
Boutros rejected the suggestion that Emirates’ involvement with Real Madrid was prompted by rival airline Qatar Airways becoming shirt sponsor of rival club FC Barcelona. In fact, the level of cooperation between Qatari-owned PSG and the Dubai-owed Emirates suggests that Middle Eastern nations are not forcing the pace in competition with each other, but on a global level.
Which brings me back to the question at the top.
While Emirates are paying nearly five times as much to sponsor Qatar-funded PSG as in the previous deal (Eur25 million annually compared to around Eur5 million annually), PSG could conceivably offer five-fold media awareness thanks to the club’s almost guaranteed presence in the UEFA Champions League over the coming years.
Middle Eastern brands, or sovereign wealth fund investors for that matter, may be a lot shrewder on price than some suspect. A case in point is the Arsenal stadium naming rights renewal last year. In 2004, Emirates paid a modest £3 million per year for the naming rights until 2021 – and not much more per year to extend for a further seven years until 2028.
Emirates is now so synonymous with the stadium that other brands won’t even compete.
This is a personal perspective of Matthew Glendinning, editor of Sports Sponsorship Insider.