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Barcelona, Messi Fly New Historic Naming Rights Deal With Qatar Airlines

By Barry Janoff

March 4, 2013: Lionel Messi will have to do without Kobe Bryant beginning this summer if he wants to film another airlines commercial.

Messi appears in a TV spot as part of a current marketing campaign with Bryant for Turkish Airlines, which currently sponsors Messi's FC Barcelona and also has a deal with Bryant.

But Turkish Airlines will be off the Barcelona marketing roster when a new deal between Barcelona and rival Qatar Airways begins on July 1.

Qatar Airways unveiled its deal with Barcelona on Monday (March 4), under which it would become the first commercial jersey-front sponsor in the club's 113-year history. The three-year pact, which also makes Qatar the club's official airline, was valued at $46 million per year by team and airline officials.

The alliance with Qatar Airway was organic in nature from the club's previous deal. Qatar Airways will replace The Qatar Foundation, a non-profit group, on the jersey front. Qatar Foundation signed a five-year deal back in 2010, valued at $215 million, but with an option that enabled FC Barcelona to switch sponsorship deals after two and a half years, according to the club.

The Qatar Foundation had replaced UNICEF, which moved from the front to the back of the FC Barcelona jersey.

These deals had to be approved by a majority of the Barcelona assembly of more than 155,000 people who have paid for a piece of club ownership. According to club officials, the jersey-front deal with Qatar Airways received "a 90% majority vote."

Barcelona's kit is supplied by Nike, whose "Swoosh" appears on the shirt. A logo from UNICEF will continue to appear on the jersey-back through 2016, according to club officials.

“There’s lots of competition and if we want to be at the very top we need resources," Sandro Rosell, Barcelona president, said during a press conference to unveil the new alliance. “There are only a few ways of doing this: TV rights in the future may be less due to the economy. The other way is through charging our members more or selling our facilities, which we don’t want to do. We have to look for resources via marketing. It’s the only way forward."

Among other notable soccer jersey-front naming rights deal are Manchester United (General Motors' Chevrolet, which replaces AON in 2014), Real Madrid (BWIN), Bayern Munich (Telekom), Arsenal (Emirates Air) and Chelsea (Samsung). In the U.S., 16 of the 19 clubs in Major League Soccer have jersey-front sponsorship deals entering the 2013 season.

Officials in the State of Qatar have been accelerating their visibility worldwide since being named in 2010 to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

"There’s lots of competition and if we want to be at the very top we need resources. We have to look for resources via marketing. It’s the only way forward."

According to Akbar Al Baker, CEO for Qatar Airways, “Qatar Airways has a larger international network than Turkish Airlines and we give more people the opportunity to travel with us globally. We are truly a global brand with 119 aircraft flying to 125 destinations. But in three years’ time we aim to have 170 aircraft flying to 170 destinations. [And] by the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar we aim to be even more formidable than we are today.”

The State of Qatar is an Arab emirate located on a peninsula surrounded by the Persian Gulf on three sides and bordered by Saudi Arabia on the other. The official language is Arabic, and its population is about 1.7 million. It is among the most gas- and oil-rich-laden nations in the world.

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