Emirates’ head of sponsorship on why the airline chose Formula One

Emirates underlined its status as one of the world’s biggest investors in sport when it signed a deal to become a global partner of Formula One on Tuesday. Hours after the deal was confirmed, Roger Duthie, the airline's head of sponsorship, tells SportsPro why the company has added to a sponsorship roster which already includes significant spends in soccer, cricket, rugby and tennis.

Emirates underlined its status as one of the world’s biggest investors in sport when it signed a deal to become a global partner of Formula One on Tuesday. The five-year agreement will see the airline display its ‘Fly Emirates’ branding trackside at 15 of the 19 races per season, the only exceptions being the races in Australia, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi, where other airlines have existing deals, and Monaco, where local organisers do their own commercial deals. Hours after the deal was confirmed, Roger Duthie, Emirates’ head of sponsorship, told SportsPro why the company has added to a sponsorship roster which already includes significant spends in soccer, cricket, rugby and tennis.

A simple first question: why Formula One?
To be honest, Formula One is one of the only true global sponsorships and what I mean by that is it goes to different markets every other week, for six to eight months of the year. It literally is a global sponsorship. We’ve always looked at partnerships that are prestigious, world-class and, right now more importantly for us, that epitomise a lifestyle brand. That’s what we are trying to accomplish. We want to move from a travel brand to a lifestyle brand and that’s why we signed up with Formula One. It ticks all the boxes for us.
 
What was the timeline and origin of the deal?
It was relatively quick for us. We knew this was always on our radar. When the opportunity was presented to us we knew that Formula One probably had other suitors lining up – we can’t confirm that, but we thought that this property was so hot that if we really wanted to get involved in it we had to act quickly. I don’t want to say it was simple because when you’re dealing with these kind of numbers and this type of property nothing is ever simple, but they came out here, jumped out of a plane and we started negotiating over the next few months and came to a conclusion. We feel it’s a win-win for both of us and both us are very happy about this.
 
You have 15 races of trackside branding this year. Is that something that could be revised going into years two, three, four?
It’s stuck at 15 because of the other airline partners at other races so once other airline partners leave, yes, we could see that increasing.
 
The deal doesn’t include Monaco because of its unique commercial set-up. Will you seek a deal with local organisers for the Grand Prix there?
It’s an important market and we fly to Nice, so that could be something that could happen down the road. But we will have some hospitality options at Monaco that we’ll probably take up. For this year there’s no branding rights or other rights. Down the road, we could possibly see Monaco being one of the races as well, if that opportunity were to present itself.

“The deal for us is not about the dollar sign.”

You’ll doubtless have seen the reports that this is a US$200 million agreement, although other suggestions are that the figure is inaccurate. What is the true value of the deal?
I’ll say this. This deal for us is not about the dollar sign. We don’t want to announce the figure because this really is a lifestyle opportunity for us, a lifestyle branding exercise for us and to be associated with this lifestyle brand. We don’t want to be the Middle East carrier beating our chests, saying ‘look how much money we have, we’re going to pour more money into Formula One, more money into here and there’. We don’t want it to be about the number, we want it to be about the partnership. The answer to your question is I can’t confirm or deny the figure.
 
How does Emirates intend to differentiate itself from the multitude of other Formula One sponsors?
I think you’ll see it just with the branding. It’ll be a good branding exercise. We’ll be offering some fun things for the fans that we’re working on. This was a fairly quick deal for us, so we’re going to play a little bit of catch-up for the first few races, probably the first half of the season; we’ll take all the branding and hospitality. We know the passions of fans and we want to show fans that we share their passion, whether it’s football, cricket, tennis or Formula One and ‘we’ll do something for you to make your experience of attending a Formula One race more enjoyable’. We’re working on that right now. Those are the things we’re trying to get out of the sponsorship. We’ll have some fun and exciting things. We also own the airport space and that’s one way we can separate ourselves from every other brand: we’ll probably be doing something in the airports throughout our 15 races as well.
 
What’s your experience of working with Bernie Ecclestone and Formula One Management thus far?
World class. He’s a legend. He is a gentleman. He’s a very good businessman. One thing he said to us when we did the contract was ‘let’s put the contract aside now and let’s just make this work – if you guys need anything else, you just let us know and we’ll work with you’. We said the same thing. We felt right away from the get-go the partnership is going to be strong. I have nothing but accolades for Bernie and his team.
 
What will success be for Emirates at the end of this first season of sponsorship in 2013?
For us, the events in Asia are very important. We’re going to look at our brand awareness in Japan and China, throughout Asia – India’s very important for us – and in the Americas in general. We’ll be looking to do some research around the fans in these markets with respect to brand awareness and at propensity to fly Emirates after they’ve seen our brand at not only Formula One but some of our other properties throughout the world.

In terms of how this sits in Emirates’ overall sponsorship roster, how significant is this deal?
Top five, for sure. Definitely.
 

Share

Related content