Just how powerful are the Middle Eastern carriers? Ask Barcelona.

It isn’t just the world’s airlines where the "big three" of the Middle East – Emirates, Etihad and Qatar – are making huge inroads. Just ask the fans of Barcelona’s football club. The team will see, for the first time in its 113 year history, a corporate sponsor on the front of their jerseys: Qatar Airways. The deal nets the team £25 million annually.

The move has angered some fans (the club is wholly owned and operated by its supporters) who see the move as a betrayal of their tradition. Club president Sandro Rosell insists that the deal is "good for our club, good for our city and good for our country." This isn’t the first major marketing move by one of the three carriers. United Airlines was a long-time sponsor of the US Open tennis tournament. Last year that sponsorship was taken over by Emirates in a reported seven year, $90mm deal.

Enormous amounts of money are shifting around with these carriers and there doesn’t seem to be much the other global carriers can do to keep up. The hubs of Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi present incredible geographic advantages for huge chunks of the world’s population. An 8 hour flight from any of the three can cover 60%+ of the world’s population, including Barcelona. And including huge chunks of India, China, south-east Asia, and Europe. When Etihad can afford to buy a chunk of Air Berlin (both the airline and their loyalty program) to gain access to the local markets rather than figure out bilateral treaties and such that’s a huge competitive advantage for them.

I’ve talked in the past about the impact of the Middle Eastern carriers on global alliances. The Qantas/Emirates deal was a huge move to change the way the world’s air traffic moves and the way marketing partnerships operate. Barca agreeing to wear the Qatar logo on their shirts isn’t quite as big a deal financially, but it very well may be just as significant from a marketing and psychological standpoint.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. There’s a huge level of service discrepancy between Etihad and airBerlin. Any premium pax would instantly notice the gap when when flying EY F into AUH then all of a sudden dumped onto an airBerlin narrowbody up to Germany.

  2. Isn’t Emirates the sponsor of Arsenal and Etihad of Manchester City? Pretty sure those teams adorn those ME carriers on their jerseys too. This is huge for QR, IMO.

    1. Yes, the other carriers already sponsor other teams in the area. My point was more about the fact that the marketing power of these carriers managed to end 113 years of tradition in Barcelona.

  3. Ah yes, I got that. It’s an interesting point that this breaks the historical trend of arguably the most history rich team out there.

    I guess FCB won’t have to change their jerseys too much from the current “Qatar Foundation” though.

  4. QR sponsorship has nothing to do with the BCN market, FCB games are watched by millions in QR focus markets. Some of their players work with TK though, that should create some problems 😉 Curious how QR plans to visualize their relationship though: FC Bayern for example is flown to their european games on LH widebodies 😉

    1. I know it has nothing to do specifically with the Barcelona market so much as the fact that they are an incredibly popular team and get a lot of TV time. This sort of thing isn’t uncommon at all across sports.

      As for the sponsor airline flying the team around, that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. In the USA the bids for the charter flights are separate from the “official sponsor” deals.

  5. ME carriers have an advantage because their executives ranks are not stuffed with undeserving folks earning bloated salaries (as is the case with most US legacy carriers) and their workers are not ‘protected’ by unions that ‘look after’ their workers to the detriment of all others. Ergo they do well.

  6. State owned carriers with fat wallets can do just about anything they want. I’m sure Bedouins aren’t at the helm of these decisions,…most are ex-pats who are guiding their future……the Bedouins just cut the checks to make it happen…or in this case, the bags of cash hehe

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