It isn’t just the world’s airlines where the "big three" of the Middle East – Emirates, Etihad and Qatar – are making huge inroads. Just ask the fans of Barcelona’s football club. The team will see, for the first time in its 113 year history, a corporate sponsor on the front of their jerseys: Qatar Airways. The deal nets the team £25 million annually.
The move has angered some fans (the club is wholly owned and operated by its supporters) who see the move as a betrayal of their tradition. Club president Sandro Rosell insists that the deal is "good for our club, good for our city and good for our country." This isn’t the first major marketing move by one of the three carriers. United Airlines was a long-time sponsor of the US Open tennis tournament. Last year that sponsorship was taken over by Emirates in a reported seven year, $90mm deal.
Enormous amounts of money are shifting around with these carriers and there doesn’t seem to be much the other global carriers can do to keep up. The hubs of Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi present incredible geographic advantages for huge chunks of the world’s population. An 8 hour flight from any of the three can cover 60%+ of the world’s population, including Barcelona. And including huge chunks of India, China, south-east Asia, and Europe. When Etihad can afford to buy a chunk of Air Berlin (both the airline and their loyalty program) to gain access to the local markets rather than figure out bilateral treaties and such that’s a huge competitive advantage for them.
I’ve talked in the past about the impact of the Middle Eastern carriers on global alliances. The Qantas/Emirates deal was a huge move to change the way the world’s air traffic moves and the way marketing partnerships operate. Barca agreeing to wear the Qatar logo on their shirts isn’t quite as big a deal financially, but it very well may be just as significant from a marketing and psychological standpoint.
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