For over 30-years, Emirates has spent huge sums of money on international sports sponsorships – some of which, like a recent five-year extension of the airline’s title sponsorship at Arsenal soccer club cost hundreds of millions of dollars. From the U.S. Tennis Open to major F1 motor races and the aforementioned football clubs, you’re likely to see the iconic red and white Emirates branding on prominent display at big-ticket sporting events worldwide.
Even during a recent financial squeeze, Emirates decided the cost of sponsoring sports events and clubs was worth the hefty investment. In fact, the airline’s chairman, HH Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum says sports sponsorships are a “vital” part of Emirates’ marketing strategy, explaining that its one of the best way to “connect” with potential passengers.
And soccer (or football depending on where you’re from) is probably one of the airline’s most important areas for sports sponsorship where it sponsors both individual teams and major soccer tournaments. Clubs like AC Milan, Real Madrid and of course, Arsenal all have major sponsorship deals with Emirates, and the carrier has even backed the New York Cosmos as soccer gains traction in the United States.
Back in 2005, Emirates signed a sponsorship deal with Paris Saint-Germain and that was followed by a shirt sponsorship deal in 2006. At present, Emirates is signed up be a PSG sponsor until the end of the 2018/2019 season but reports now suggest the airline has no intention of renewing the deal.
The reason is down to an ongoing and increasingly bitter dispute between a Saudi-led bloc of Middle East countries, including the UAE with neighbouring Qatar. Paris Saint-Germain was bought by Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund in 2012 to the value of around $130 million USD – and that puts the Dubai-based Emirates in a very uncomfortable position.
Rumours first circulated in August that Emirates would not renew its sponsorship of PSG and now an airline spokesperson has confirmed the news without offering a reason for cutting ties with the club. Emirates may now be looking for an alternative French club to sponsor, considering the airline currently sponsors a club in each of Europe’s major soccer leagues.
Saudia Arabia, along with Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE broke diplomatic relations with Qatar and imposed a boycott on the country in June 2017 after they accused the Qatari government of supporting terrorism and destabilising the region. Qatar has refused to meet some of Saudi Arabia’s key demands including closing down the infamous State-owned Al Jazeera news station.
In recent years, Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund has snapped up big investments in a number of foreign companies and properties – Could the UAE stop Emirates flying to London’s Heathrow because Qatar owns a 20% stake in the airport? Or perhaps British Airways could be barred from flying to the UAE because Qatar Airways owns a similarly sized stake in BA’s parent company?
Admittedly, they are both extreme examples which just aren’t going to happen but the PSG sponsorship issue just goes to show how diplomatic tensions in the region have the potential to spread.