Abu Dhabi carrier Etihad Airways announced that it has signed a sponsorship agreement to become the official airline of popular Saudi Arabian football club Al Ittihad.
As part of the deal, Etihad will receive prominent branding at home matches and training, access to players for marketing activities, presence at press conferences and other exclusive events.
The airline will also be the preferred airline for the club and supporter travel when they fly abroad for the Asian Champions League competition.
Chief commercial officer for Etihad Airways Peter Baumgartner said: “We have an extremely successful track record in sports sponsorship and our latest role as official airline of Al Ittihad complements Etihad Airways’ existing partnerships with Manchester City, Melbourne City and New York City football clubs.
“Saudi Arabia is one of our most important markets and we are delighted to support a team based in our home region.”
Founded in 1927, Al Ittihad is a premier team in the Abdul Latif Jameel League and has won eight league titles, holds 47 official championship wins and three Asian championships.
The Jeddah-based club, which plays its home games at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium, also holds the record for the highest average home attendance in domestic league matches amongst all Middle Eastern football clubs.
President of Al Ittihad FC Ibrahim Al-Balawi said: “The partnership gives us an opportunity to extend our reach outside of the traditional market of Saudi Arabia and into other areas of the world such as Asia, where we also have a strong following in our fan base thanks to our success in the Asian Champions League.”
Regional airlines such as Etihad, Emirates and Qatar Airways have been investing heavily in sports sponsorship over the last few years. A recent report by sports marketing research company Repucom also found that in 2014, UAE companies, led by Emirates and Etihad, invested $163m in shirt sponsorship with the Arab state surpassing Germany at the top of the sponsorship investment table.
In line with that, Etihad’s current sports sponsorship portfolio includes the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing team; the Manchester City, Melbourne City and New York City football clubs; and the Verizon Centre in Washington DC.
Earlier this year, the airline also signed a sponsorship deal with Indian Premier League cricket team Mumbai Indians. It entered into a three-year partnership deal with the England and Wales Cricket Board in July last year, becoming the first ever official airline partner of the England Cricket Teams.
Etihad also sponsors the Sydney Opera House, Gaelic Athletic Association’s Hurling All Ireland Senior Championship and the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.