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Mass exposure

Sport sponsorship is a powerful tool for Etihad, especially when we are engaged in major sponsorships at such an early stage of our development.
Peter Baumgartner, Etihad Airways' executive vice president for marketing and product.
Peter Baumgartner, Etihad Airways' executive vice president for marketing and product.

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How do sports sponsorships enhance an airline's brand and attract new customers?

As an airline, we have always had a development strategy and sponsorship is just one tool.

It offers a particular advantage, especially when we are engaged in a major sponsorship at such an early stage of our life cycle [Etihad was launched in 2003]. It's something that other companies may not necessarily have the opportunity to do.

 

One of the issues we have found is some people are still unsure about what Etihad is. It's not just a case of signing a sponsorship and then everything suddenly fits into place.

It's not a case of waiting around and eventually getting involved in sports sponsorships after a period of time. We planned to go out and get immediate access to mass market exposure, as well as fantastic opportunities for our brand.

You align yourself with a brand that shares equal values and can help your own image. It's an ideal approach for a company which is still building its brand.

An established brand partner also gives us a platform to compete. Sports can fill key criteria, so Formula One for example associates the airline with a premium F1 brand. But Ferrari can't just be seen in isolation.

It's not just about us sponsoring an F1 team; there is a bigger picture to consider. An F1 theme park is being developed, with Mubadala, the investment arm of Abu Dhabi, involved.

The emirate has a relationship with F1, which is a global name that has the potential to put Abu Dhabi and Etihad on the global network.

The tagline we have introduced for this is Abu Dhabi to the world'. We are the vehicle, with our consumer brand promoting the destination, so this master plan of highlighting our routes, brand and F1 seems to be ideal.

Our team sponsorship with Ferrari came from working with the Spyker [F1] team. That relationship helped us to get into the Formula One circuit.

Our relationship with Chelsea FC is based on the same principles as the F1 tie up. We had an 'Abu Dhabi Day' recently at the team's last home game of the season.

The theme was based on the emirate, so we had Arabic food, just like we had at Harelquins recently. Apart from that specific day, we have also brought Chelsea soccer schools to Abu Dhabi to further promote ours and the football club's brands.

Usually, international sports brands come to us but it's always Etihad that decides on the opportunities. We don't just agree sponsorships because someone has called and presented a good case.

It's the other way round; we say 'this is the right thing to do' and agree a deal that fulfils our strategy. There are some specific engagements, like Hurling in Ireland, which we're involved in.

The country is a strategically-important area and there is opportunity for us to try and own the market. It gives us an opportunity to secure the right strategic partnership.

Ireland was country specific while Chelsea was an international or cross-continental deal. We are now looking at Australia and North America, and you can expect some news in the future. For North America, the obvious sport is baseball. We might announce something at the end of the year, but for now we're not sure.

The key is securing new customers while creating ones that are loyal to the brand. Working with clubs like Chelsea is about supporting and gaining their loyalty. What we don't want to do is pay Chelsea a cheque, get our logo into the stadium and that's it.

No other sponsor has anything like an 'Abu Dhabi Day', which shows how we are engaged with the club. Graeme Le Saux and Roberto Di Matteo, two Chelsea legends, are brand ambassadors for us, so we are active in taking advantage of that tie-up. The Chelsea soccer schools, where Graeme and Roberto came to Abu Dhabi, attracted 500 kids and they are our future fliers.

It's about giving something back to the community. One of the issues we have found is some people are still unsure about what Etihad is. It's not just a case of signing a sponsorship deal and then everything suddenly fits into place.

You have to explain what you're trying to achieve and sponsorships can help accelerate that process. It gives us the platform to talk to our target audience and explain to them that we are an award-winning airline.

In terms of the budget we have, it's a substantial amount and may be more than the average spends for other companies. But that's because we're flying to many destinations, which have to appeal to passengers and fit in with the brand.

Sponsorship is an ideal platform to reach people and our target audience, so there is substantial investment. We can then see how well these sponsorships work by tracking them through various means, such as media surveys.

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