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Jul232012

Q&A: Emirates' Flight Plan Puts Sports Marketing On Course For Global Growth

By Barry Janoff

July 23, 2012: Earlier this year, Emirates Airline signed a seven-year deal with the U.S. Tennis Assn. to become title sponsor of the U.S. Tennis Open Series and the official carrier of the U.S. Open Grand Slam.

Emirates called the pact, which industry analysts put at $100 million and runs through 2019, as the second largest among its estimated 100 sponsorship deals in terms of annual fees. Ahead of it: an estimated $200 million deal signed in 2006 making Emirates the first global airline sponsor of the FIFA World Cup (through 2014).

Emirates replaced Olympus as title sponsor of what is now the Emirates U.S. Open Series and replaced United Airlines (which in turn took over from Continental when the two carriers merged in 2010) as the official airline of the USTA.

According to Lew Sherr, chief revenue officer for the USTA, "Other airlines were also interested in [aligning with ] the USTA, both domestic and foreign. But Emirates showed us that they really valued the Open Series and the U.S. Open not only domestically but in global strategy. That was what, for us, placed them ahead of the others."

Both the title sponsorship of the ten-tournament Emirates U.S. Open Series that is now in progress and official alliance with the the U.S. Tennis Open that follows support the Dubai-based carrier's expansion in the U.S. and goal to expand its footprint worldwide.

The carrier currently has six U.S. destinations — New York, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas and Seattle (the latter two of which were added this year) — with Washington, D.C., coming in September.

Other marketing partners of the Emirates U.S. Open Series (which began the week of July 9 at Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, Calif., and runs through the week of Aug. 19 with the Winston-Salem Open) include American Express, PepsiCo's Gatorade, Chase, Citizen Watch, Esurance and Evian.

The U.S. Open runs Aug. 27-Sept. 9 at the USTA Billie Jean National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, NY.

Emirates is not a newcomer to the world of sports sponsorships. In 1987,  just two years after its inception, the company began to form alliances in such sports as soccer, tennis, rugby, cricket, sailing and horse racing. In 2004, Emirates and Arsenal signed a 15-year deal estimated to be $157 million, including jersey-front sponsorship and naming rights to Arsenal’s home stadium, which at the time was the biggest club sponsorship in English football history. In horse racing, Emirates is title sponsor of the $10 million Dubai World Cup.

Emirates' other tennis alliances include being the official airline of the BNP Paribas Open (Indian Wells, Calif.), the Rogers Cup (Canada) and the Internazionali BNL d'Italia and a sponsor of the Dubai Tennis Championship.

NYSportsJournalism spoke with Roger Duthie, head of global sponsorships for Emirates Airline, about the pros, cons and challenges facing the carrier in its first season with the USTA as it uses sports to expand its footprint in the U.S. and around the world.

NYSportsJournalism.com: Why did Emirates sign a seven-year deal with the USTA rather than a shorter one?

Roger Duthie: We are here for the long haul. We are backing this project with a seven-year deal, where we usually sign deals for one-to-three years or so. We see this as a great way to build our brand in the U.S. and around the world. We have been shifting our strategy and goals. We are now more of a lifestyle brand. And the messages we are getting out are very important. We are using the U.S. Open Series to get support the message about our lifestyle efforts. We want to be a Top 100 brand and we are using the U.S. Open Series to help us achieve our lofty goals. We love teams and sports and we want to share that feeling with fans.

NYSJ: How long has this strategy been planned?

RD: We have been looking at the big ticket sports in the U.S. for some time, in particular to support our U.S. expansion and the growth of our fleet. We looked at and considered the big four sports — MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL — regarding league-wide and individual team sponsorships. We also looked at the PGA Tour. We found that they were not a fit for us.

NYSJ: Was there any interest in Nascar, which has a huge following in the U.S. and elsewhere?

RD: No. We don't see Nascar fitting in with our strategy.

NYSJ: Why the U.S. Open Series?

RD: The global reach of the Series and of tennis complements our global growth strategy in the U.S., Japan, China, Europe, Dubai and elsewhere. And the Open Series gives us strong access to local communities. So we looked at the overall reach of the Open Series and saw that the events were televised locally, nationally and around the world. And with the U.S. Open, you have the last Grand Slam event of the year, which always attracts U.S. and global attention. And we are looking to an event with perhaps even more interest because of the [rankings among] Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.

"We looked at and considered the big four sports: MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL. We also looked at the PGA Tour. We found that they were not a fit for us."

NYSJ: Any plans to sign individual athletes to endorsement deals?

RD: Many athletes love to fly Emirates, such as Tiger Woods and Novak Djokovic. You could see those [publicity] photos in newspapers. We have had the opportunity to sign [individual] athletes to endorsement contracts, but have chosen not to do so. That is and has been company policy. It is a strategy we have researched very intensely and which we do not take lightly. Emirates supports sports and athletes and all of the positive things they stand for. But when it comes to [signing endorsement deals with] athletes, there are too many factors involved. You just don't know what will happen.

NYSJ: Considering that he plays in the annual Omega Dubai Desert Classic at the Emirates Golf Club, which he has won twice, was Woods ever considered as a possible athlete endorser?

RD: Emirates [executives] were engaged in preliminary discussions with Tiger Woods' agent several years ago for a possible endorsement deal. But then he had his fall from grace, so we re-focused our attention on teams and leagues. But we are proud of the fact that Tiger Woods was and continues to be an Emirates passenger.

NYSJ: How does the seven-year deal to become title sponsor of the U.S. Tennis Open Series fit into the company's current and future strategy?

RD: This is our second biggest sponsorship in terms of fees paid per annum behind our deal with FIFA, and we have more than 100 sponsorships. Of course, the landscape is constantly changing. We are looking to make an impact in both the U.S. and globally. So we anticipate that we will get a strong return on the fees we are paying.

NYSJ: What stood out for Emirates regarding the USTA?

RD: We always look for premier partnerships that are associated with world-class events. The USTA certainly has a premier, world-class event with the U.S. Open and many of its other events. We wanted an alliance that would offer us the opportunity for hospitality and the opportunity to do something for local communities as well as global branding. We look for sports that enable us to engage with fans. We felt that in football or hockey, it would be difficult for us to have a meaningful fan experience. But when we looked at tennis and the USTA, we many opportunities available.

NYSJ: Have you learned anything from the FIFA alliance that you might take into or change with the USTA relationship?

RD: Emirates relaunched its global brand platform earlier this year, 'Hello, Tomorrow,' which impacted our sponsorship strategy. It's not about a product or the brand as much as sharing the fans' experience. We are trying to become a lifestyle brand. We what people's choice to be Emirates because of the product but also because it's a lifestyle. That's a key for us. So among the activation that we will have at tennis events in America will be offering Arabic coffee, hot towels, dates, things that enhance the lifestyle aspect. And we want to be an aspirational brand. We want people to want to fly Emirates. 'Here is what we are offering and we want you to be part of it.'

NYSJ: How would you quality brand awareness of Emirates in the U.S. right now?

RD: We have done research and studies. Since we unveiled this alliance with the USTA [in February] and our expansion in Dallas [in February] and Seattle [in March] has grown significantly. People in America know that Emirates is a sponsor of the U.S. Open Series. We will do more research after the summer and we expect the awareness to significantly rise again.

NYSJ: What elements will be part of what was called a "multimillion-dollar marketing campaign" to support the alliance with the USTA?

RD: We are covering all aspects. The seven-year partnership includes sponsorship rights include integrated consumer experiential elements and substantial digital media assets and opportunities. There will be strong [activation] in digital and social media, including a dedicated Web site {EmiratesUSOpenSeries.com]. We are running during the U.S. Open Series an online campaign in which we are asking people to locate one of our new A380 aircraft, which has the U.S. Open Series logo on it,. We are asking people take a picture of it, to tell us 'Where in the world is the A380?' and submit it to our Web site.

NYSJ: What about activation to support your presence at the U.S. Open itself?

RD: Relating to the U.S. Open, there will be print, Internet and other aspects. Emirates will have a significant on-court presence and also receive global promotional rights. You will see Emirates on [media partners] CBS Sports, ESPN2 and Tennis Channel through stadium signage, interstitials and in-broadcast features.

NYSJ: How do you expect the first year of this relationship to play out?

RD: We have a seven-year deal so there will be a building process. This is a learning experience for us. The first year, we are here to build our presence and to support the USTA. And to have fun and get children involved in the sport. We are learning and building together. At the end of the year, we will sit down with all our team members and the USTA and look at what we have done, where we can move forward, what did and didn't work. Every sponsorship has its KPI (key performance indicators), its business objectives, media return. So we will sit back and say 'That worked. That didn't work.' To see where we can get better.

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