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Dubai, Emirates Make Claim for Sports Capital of the World

By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek

February 8, 2013

Here in the U.S., sports fans are constantly arguing about what is the country’s best sports town. Is it Boston? Chicago? New York City? Or, dare we say, Philadelphia, known for its raucous fans and boobirds?

Maybe in order to determine what truly is the best sports address, we have to look outside the U.S. borders. Way outside…to the United Arab Emirates and its largest city, Dubai. And to Emirates Airline, which is not only the official airline of the UAE, it’s a company that has recently cemented its place as the world’s preeminent sports sponsor.

Emirates Airline over the last couple weeks has committed to spending more nearly $375 million over the next five years on two new sports sponsorships, as well as renewing existing relationships. The first is a $171 million jersey sponsorship with French soccer club Paris St. Germain, the club that recently signed David Beckham. The deal will be the richest in French soccer history when it goes into effect in 2014.

The other new deal is a $200 million sponsorship deal with Formula 1, a property Emirates was last aligned with in 2006.

Always a heavy sports spender, Emirates typically has invested in soccer—the company is the jersey sponsor and holds stadium naming rights for Arsenal FC, and also backs Real Madrid and AC Milan. However, with the Formula 1 deal, a major U.S. Open tennis sponsorship signed last year, and significant backing of golf, horse racing, and cricket, Emirates clearly is trying to overshadow its European and Middle East competitors on the international stage. Expect to see the airline continue to spend big bucks on events and teams in major international cities.

On the tennis front, the ATP, the men’s pro tennis association, is increasingly looking to the UAE to provide a reliable source of funding. (And no less of an ATP luminary than Roger Federer lists Dubai as his official residence.)

One year ago, Emirates and the USTA announced that the airline would title sponsor the 10-tournament hard court summer series, and become the official airline partner of the U.S. Open itself, as part of a seven-year deal though to be worth more than $90 million. The agreement gives the United Arab Emirates a high-profile foothold in American sports and is a key part of the airline’s global sports marketing push.

The ATP and Emirates a month ago also formally announced a partnership making Emirates the official airline of the ATP World Tour. Per the five-year deal, Emirates has become a platinum partner of the tour, as well as the season-ending Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, through 2017. Emirates will also become the presenting sponsor of the ATP World Tour No. 1 trophy ceremonies and the ATP Newcomer of the Year award.

Emirates is also the official airline of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships and the Rogers Cup in Canada, and is the official airline and premium partner of the Internazionali BNL D’Italia in Rome.

Earlier today, Emirates announced that it is also extending its sponsorship of the BNP Paribas Open until 2015. The official airline of the Indian Wells tournament since 2010, Emirates will again host the popular Emirates’ Garden Club for guests at the BNP Paribas Open, a premium hospitality area that showcases the airline’s world-class service, fine wines, and gourmet regional dishes. On “Emirates Day,” Saturday March 9, fans will have the opportunity to win prizes including finals tickets and round-trip flights to Dubai.

On the golf course, the European Tour’s Race to Dubai celebrates the world’s passion for golf, from the Africa Open in January through November’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. Prize monies for the 2012 Championship totaled $8 million, with $1.3 going to winner Rory McIlroy.

McIlroy and Tiger Woods made their first starts of the 2013 season in the Emirates, playing in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, an event for which each of the superstars reportedly received an appearance fee in the $3 million range.

Organizers were undoubtedly agonized when both golfers failed to make the cut, depriving fans of the opportunity to follow them over the weekend.

But disgruntled golf fans could certainly find plenty of other things to do in the region. Set on 50 million square feet, Dubai Sports City has been conceptualized as a city within a city, where fans can experience everything from 60,000-5,000- seat stadia for rugby, soccer, track and field, and cricket to indoor arenas for hard court games, ice hockey, and concerts, to leading sports academies and recreational sporting facilities, all coupled with luxurious international hotels and entertainment venues.

It’s certainly no surprise that Dubai and the UAE are making a serious run at hosting the Olympic Games, perhaps as early as 2020. Boston, Chicago, and Philly, take note.

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Beyond the Scoreboard
Rick Horrow, America’s leading expert in sport business, and coauthor Karla Swatek give fans an inside look at the multibillion-dollar world of professional sport.
Beyond the Scoreboard eBook
Rick Horrow, America’s leading expert in sport business, and coauthor Karla Swatek give fans an inside look at the multibillion-dollar world of professional sport.
Beyond the Scoreboard: Chapter 1. The Mega-Master Super Series XLXL eBook chapter

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