Abu Dhabi-based airline Etihad Airways has become the official airline partner of Major League Soccer (MLS) in the US.
The multi-year deal, which was rumoured in US press reports on Monday, was struck between Etihad, MLS and Soccer United Marketing, the league’s commercial arm.
The agreement marks Etihad’s first multi-year sports sponsorship in North America and will see the carrier receive branding on LED pitch-side advertising during nationally televised MLS matches, as well as across national broadcast partners and US soccer platform MLS Digital Properties.
MLS and Etihad will also collaborate on a range of activation initiatives and community programmes, including competitions and promotions for flights and holidays.
MLS enforces strict air travel rules which limit the number of charter flights each team can take. The rules were relaxed slightly in 2008 but teams are still restricted to four private journeys per season. The regulations are intended to prevent wealthier clubs, which can afford more charter flights, from gaining a competitive advantage.
Etihad joins an MLS official sponsor roster which includes Adidas, Budweiser, AT&T, Castrol, Panasonic, Gatorade and Visa, among many others.
Don Garber, the commissioner of MLS, said: “We are excited to welcome Etihad Airways as the official airline partner of Major League Soccer in the United States and are proud to be the first major sports association in the US for such a prestigious global company.
“On behalf of our clubs, our players and our millions of fans, we welcome Etihad Airways to the MLS family and look forward to working with them to help grow their business in this region.”
Etihad currently operates daily flights between its hub at Abu Dhabi Airport and Chicago, New York and Washington, DC, all of which have a resident MLS franchise. Additional flights to Los Angeles and Dallas-Fort Worth are set to be rolled out in 2014.