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Partnership Reports

Airlines Soar With Pro Sports Sponsorships

March 6, 2024

In the realm of airline sponsorships, a handful of prominent players fly higher than the rest––namely Emirates, Delta, United, and Qatar, which collectively comprise one-third of the entire airline sponsorship landscape. The remaining two-thirds is divided among 225 others, further underscoring the dominance of these four marquee brands. 

Dubai-based Emirates made headlines last month with the announcement of a blockbuster deal naming it the Official Global Airline Partner of the NBA. The multi-year partnership also makes Emirates the inaugural title partner of the NBA Cup (formerly called the NBA In-Season Tournament), as well as the league’s first-ever referee jersey patch partner. As part of the sponsorship, NBA content will be available on all Emirates flights, including long-form documentaries and player profiles. 

IP rights and Instagram posts rank as two upwardly trending assets within the category, which currently spans 1,222 sponsorships. The latter has resonated especially with sports fans: several co-branded posts by the LA Lakers and Kansas City Chiefs––which partner with Delta and United, respectively––of players disembarking aircrafts have each engaged well over 200K Instagram users. 

Emirates, in particular, has maximized its total social engagement to the tune of 48M by strategically partnering with pro sports teams––like Real Madrid CF, AC Milan, and Arsenal––that boast substantial follower counts. Meanwhile, United’s creativity on social media earns the brand the highest engagement rate of the top 10 most active airlines in sponsorship, as evidenced by its post of the Kansas City Chiefs’ Mecole Hardman Jr. wearing a flashy, airplane-themed chain.

Mecole Hardman x United Chain

A third of US major pro sports teams have open opportunities for airline sponsors––led by MLS, where 68% of rights holders conspicuously lack one. Curiously, within Europe's top five football leagues, only a quarter of clubs partner with airlines, most notably Emirates and Qatar Airways.

That said, given the nearly 14% increase in airline endorsement deals worldwide last year versus 2022, all signs seem to point to more blue skies ahead for the airline sponsorship market in 2024.  

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