AIRLINE SPONSORSHIP

Airline sponsorship can be a sign your property has made it. Especially the case of sports and high-end entertainment, an airline partner helps present your property as a premium entity. Sometimes these partnerships result in super snazzy liveries for the planes, as seen below: 

 

airline sponsorship

Photo by John McArthur on Unsplash 

(Full disclosure: this WestJet livery does not appear to be part of a sponsorship, but is a great example of a personalized livery nonetheless.) 

 

As with most sponsoring brands, airlines focus heavily on sports and related events and venues. However, there are also a few other categories with involvement from the airline industry. 

 

Business 

airline sponsorshipNot referenced below: United/Michelin and United/SXSW

 

Though one of the smallest categories we’ll cover today, this is also one of the most interesting. Only three airlines are included here, but the sponsored assets vary widely.  

In line with the company’s goal to keep the places it operates pristine and sustainable, Alaska Airlines is involved with two different bikeshare organizations in Seattle and the San Francisco Bay Area. The Pronto! Emerald City Cycle Share partnership was announced in conjunction with the September 2014 launch announcement. This program was Seattle’s first bike share, and while it has since folded, it aligned well with Alaska’s mission and hometown roots in the Pacific Northwest.

In the case of the Ford GoBikes in the San Francisco Bay Area, Alaska came onboard after the program’s launch. The airline did, however, help add a new spin (and benefit) to the program: GoBike riders were able to take part in a miles-for-miles program, earning 10 Alaska miles for each GoBike ride.   

As we’ll see later, British Airways’ sponsorship of KidZania is very much in line with the brand’s other sponsorships. This airline has a heavy focus on home country operations and support. This first partnership is a great example of British Airways’ willingness (and talent!) at supporting sponsorship with onsite experiential marketing and activation. The airline’s activation is described below. 

“The first educational entertainment experience of its kind, KidZania London visitors will be welcomed at a British Airways branded airport terminal, complete with check-in desks and hosts wearing uniforms inspired by the airline."

In fact, we’ve only found one partnership outside Great Britain in our search (Music City Food & Wine Festival, in preparation for BA’s new Nashville-London nonstop service). The airline also showcased a pop up English pub at Nashville’s NYE festival.  

 

Entertainment 

airline sponsorship

Not referenced below: Air New Zealand, American Airlines, British Airways, Delta Air Lines, Emirates Airlines, United Airlines 

Awards 

Like its association with KidZania, British Airways stayed in country for a major award partnership with the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. This partnership appears to have expired, as BAFTA now lists American Airlines as the official partner of the British Academy Film Awards. The other major British award show that receives mention in the US, the BRITs, does not have an airline partner. 

On our side of the pond, American Airlines also has partnered with both the Academy of Country Music Awards and the Film Independent Spirit Awards (both in 2015). One of the longest term award show partners (though you’ll see an even longer one soon) is United Airlines at the Primetime Emmy Awards. This year marked the 19th year of partnership among the two brands. United also has the responsibility of transporting the statuettes from Chicago to Los Angeles each year. 

Teased above is Air New Zealand’s partnership with the Wine Awards. While this partnership is now defunct, it spanned over three decades. After the airline’s departure, the category has not so far been filled, and the awarding organization is also exploring new categories. Air New Zealand also branches out to other Pacific islands, particularly with the title sponsorship of the Cook Islands’ Tourism Awards 

 

Festivals 

Like American Airlines and British Airways association with the BAFTAs, film festivals are popular partners for multiple airlines. Seven of the airlines we researched have at least one partnership with a film festival, ranging in prestigiousness from the Big Island Film Festival (Alaska Airlines) to Sundance Film Festival (American Airlines).  Film festivals seem to fall under two main objectives: supporting their local communities or increasing visibility in a specific foreign market. Taking a look at the chart above, you can see Copa Airlines (International Film Festival Panama) and Korean Air (Busan International Film Festival) fall into the first category; American Airlines (Edinburgh International Film Festival), Air France (Toronto International Film Festival), Etihad Airlines (Zurich Film Festival), and Lufthansa (Dallas International Film Festival) fall into the latter. Like British Airways’ partnership with the Music City Food & Wine Festival discussed above, these sponsorships were likely done to promote new nonstop routes from associated airports. 

Other festivals of interest are generally in the wine and food or music categories. The biggest name festival with an airline partner was this year’s Made In America festival with American Airlines. This particular festival made news for the wrong reasons when title sponsor Budweiser pulled out. Made in America was the only mainstream music festival on our list with an airline sponsor, the other music festivals with partners were typically jazz or choir based (Delta Air and Emirates Airlines as partners, respectively). 

 

Movies 

Continuing the film trend were two interesting partnerships with Disney. Like the Frozen themed plane pictured previously from WestJet, Alaska Airlines debuted its first Disney-Pixar livery in conjunction with the release of Incredibles 2. This was done in Seattle during Aviation Day. This next partnership will seem obvious: British Airways and Disney UK for the film Planes. The airline sponsored special screenings around the UK as well as some digital initiatives. 

 

Sports 

airline sponsorship

Not referenced below: Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Emirates Airlines, Etihad Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Turkish Airlines, United Airlines

 

Teams 

The major airlines we researched for this blog centered their sponsorship dollars largely around major metro areas or worldwide brands when spending on teams. Unsurprisingly, three of these airlines compete in the LA market in the Big 4 sports leagues. Two of the three are USA-based airlines, and both also have sponsorship dollars out in other hub markets: American with deals in Dallas and Chicago, and Delta supporting MLS and NFL teams near its headquarters.  

The dynastic Golden State Warriors have switched airline partners during the years of the team’s success. Previously with Alaska Airlines, the Warriors signed on with United Airlines in 2016. This deal makes sense for both parties as United has a major hub in the Bay Area. 

The third team in LA mentioned previously, Emirates, appears to have a more global and soccer (football) based strategy. This is where the point about worldwide brands above first comes into play. Emirates either currently, or has in the past, supported leaders in four of the major European football leagues: the English Premier League (Arsenal, Chelsea); Ligue 1 (Paris Saint-Germain); La Liga (Real Madrid); Serie A (AC Milan) 

The English Premier League appears to be the most popular European league for foreign investment (as you’ve probably noticed with team sales in previous years). Three Middle Eastern airlines have jumped on with the highly visible EPL teams; you won’t be seeing these airlines partner with a team like Swansea or Hull City, but typically those teams near the top of the table. In addition to Emirates’ partnerships, Etihad has a deal with Manchester City, and Turkish is a partner of Manchester United. The fourth major Middle Eastern airline, Qatar Airways, while not having a major partnership in the EPL, has been active on the continent with AS Roma (Serie A), Bayern Munich (Bundesliga), and FC Barcelona (La Liga). 

Germany’s flagship airline Lufthansa is also in the Bundesliga market, near Germany’s largest and busiest airport, as a partner of Eintracht Frankfurt. The airline has been with the team since 2008, and signed a five-year extension in 2014. Interestingly, SportsBusiness Journal states one of Lufthansa’s major goals in signing the extension was to ensure a Middle Eastern airline wasn’t able to snap up the rights; you can see what happened above with Bayern Munich, which was previously sponsored by Lufthansa. Keeping sponsorship dollars close to home, similar to British Airways, Lufthansa also supports Team Germany at the Olympics. This association began for the 1972 Munich Olympics, and has continued since. 

Two more deals to mention – and these are more in line with Lufthansa’s Team Germany partnership. For this year’s Commonwealth Games, Team England was supported not by an English airline. Athletes flew to Australia on Emirates as an official partner of the team. On the opposite end of the spectrum, more like deals mentioned previously for British Airways and Lufthansa, Air New Zealand supports the county’s rugby team. You may have heard of them: they’re called the All Blacks. The most recent deal between the team and airline was a five year partnership through 2020. 

 

Leagues 

While teams can have worldwide brands, leagues can reach globally on a more frequent basis. The games or matches or races that make up the league events travel or are staged in different countries more often. Check out the lucky – or calculating – airlines that have signed on with leagues around the world.  

Personally, we’ll rank these two deals as the most valuable: FIFA (Qatar Airways) and Formula 1 (Emirates). As we saw just this past summer, the FIFA World Cup permeates almost everywhere. This event, like FIFA’s other world cups (women’s, U20, etc.) travel to new countries every four years. The next tournament will be held in 2022 in Qatar – one of the reasons the country’s flagship airline signed on. The following tournament will likely be even more lucrative for FIFA as it was announced the United bid had won the rights for 2026. Qatar’s current deal goes through its hometown tournament, so we’ll be watching to see who signs on next. 

Also on a deal until 2022, Emirates is the official airline of Formula 1. The airline has rights at over 15 races globally, and has been a partner since 2013. While other airlines (as you’ll see in the next section) sometimes sign on to individual Grand Prix races, Emirates travels. On the esports side though, a different airline is involved. Qatar Airways has signed on for Formula E’s ePrix in Paris and New York City. 

Another global tour is yet again claimed by one of the above airlines with Emirates’ deal with the ATP. The partnership has expanded over the years, as has Emirates’ relationship with professional tennis. The most recent deal saw Emirates replace Corona as the tour’s Premier Partner.  

Individual country and regional league deals include Emirates (again) with the Arabian Gulf League. This particular deal represents one of Emirates’ local partnerships versus one done for global branding. Additionally, in line with the strategy already mentioned, British Airways announced a deal earlier this year to become an inaugural principal partner of Twickenham Stadium (with roof branding visible to flights going to Heathrow Terminal 5). BA will also serve as a principal partner and official airline to the stadium’s operator, England Rugby. Lastly, Lufthansa has been a partner of the German Football Association. 

 

Events 

Because the International Olympic Committee does not have an official airline as part of its TOP Program (discussed in this blog), this category is one of the more lucrative for the local organizing committees. Two in the past decade have taken advantage of this, as has one upcoming – all with each country’s flagship brand. Chronologically, the first deal was London 2012 and British Airways. BA reportedly signed for about £40 million. Earlier this year, Korean Air was an official partner of Pyeongchang 2018. Both airlines served as Tier One parners at their respective Games. 

Still upcoming is Paris 2024 with official partner Air France. The French airline signed on while the city was still in candidate phase (prior to receiving the bid). This particular timing allowed the airline to display the Paris 2024 logo on its flights to Lima, Peru for the IOC meetings choosing the host city for 2024. Now that the sponsorship program for LA2028 is open, we’ll be watching closely to see where that Games goes with its airline sponsorship (especially noting the LA competition mentioned previously).  

Marathons have proven to be a successful draw for airlines globally. Air France and Air New Zealand in particular seem to have an affinity. While both of the Air New Zealand’s partnerships are in that airline’s home country (Queenstown & Hawke’s Bay), Air France is running around the world. Homebase Paris benefits with a partnership for its marathon, but the others are a 12-15 hour flight away in California. Another airline enduring marathons is United at the New York City Half and the Rock ‘n’ Roll marathons in Washington, DC and San Francisco. 

Emirates’ partnership with the ATP Tour, mentioned above, results in collateral sponsorship of more than 60 tournaments in 29 countries across all six (inhabited) continents. The brand also has deals with major tournaments like the US and French Opens. 

 

Venues 

 Airlines have also invested in the sponsorship of venues around the world. While naming rights and title sponsorship are obviously the more visible and more expensive option, some brands have opted to take a different route depending on objective. 

 airline sponsorship

Not referenced below: United Airlines

Naming Rights 

American Airlines is the most active airline sponsor in naming rights at sports venues around the country – mostly (but not entirely) by its own choosing. Two venues – American Airlines Center (Dallas) and AmericanAirlines Arena (Miami) were deals done by the airline, one (the former US Airways Center in Phoenix) was inherited through the company’s merger with US Airways. That particular partnership was not renewed upon expiration. 

Also spending money on naming rights is Alaska Airlines. Unsurprisingly, this deal takes place in the Pacific Northwest, specifically with the University of Washington. Husky Stadium now features Alaska Airlines Field in a deal worth $41 million over 10 years, which topped deals from both the University of Illinois, the University of California, and the University of Idaho. UW’s Athletic Village also gave the airline “presented by” status; this village incorporates all the athletic facilities around the football stadium with Alaska’s namesake field. 

 

Other Sponsorship 

While music and sports venues are the trend for this category (see: American Airlines and the Hollywood Bowl, Qatar Airways and Barclays Center), Etihad bucked the trend to work with Warner Bros World Abu Dhabi. This three-year deal was done earlier this year and aims to increase tourism in Etihad’s home base of Abu Dhabi (a win/win for both venue and airline). 

Delta Air Lines also has an interesting deal with Madison Square Garden Company. On the face of it, this is a run-of-the-mill sports/music venue partnership. However, looking deeper, you see Delta’s deal includes Official Airline and Private Jet Carrier of each of the following: 

  • Madison Square Garden 
  • Theater at Madison Square Garden 
  • Beacon Theatre 
  • New York Knicks 
  • New York Rangers 
  • New York Liberty 
  • Concert Series at Madison Square Garden 
  • Radio City Music Hall 
  • Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes 
  • Boston Calling Music Festival