SBJ/March 6-12, 2017/Marketing and Sponsorship

Etihad renews MLS deal, plans content

Major League Soccer has renewed its partnership with Etihad Airways, and the airline plans to launch a new content series this season.

Under the multiyear renewal, the Abu Dhabi-based carrier remains the league’s official airline partner in the U.S. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but it represents growth in the activation dollars compared with the previous deal, struck in 2014, according to Soccer United Marketing President Kathy Carter.

The “MLS Flight Path” series will chronicle the paths players took to the league.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
During the 2017 MLS season, Etihad will work with the league on a content series titled “MLS Flight Path” that will profile stars of the league and the paths that they took to reach MLS. The series will feature exclusive digital features and interactive maps.

“Every player has a different path, whether it’s a suburban kid from Connecticut, a longtime veteran from the U.K. or anything in between,” said Patrick Pierce, Etihad Airways vice president of sponsorship. “We like how knowledgeable MLS fans are, and we wanted to create something that would be unique and increase their knowledge of the league, as well as their knowledge of who Etihad is.”

Etihad also will activate around the campaign, including fan competitions and promotions that will provide VIP experiences to the MLS All-Star Game and MLS Cup, as well as exclusive flights and holidays.

Pierce said the renewal also is serving as the next step in the company’s sports sponsorship evolution in the U.S., or “moving from brand awareness to brand knowledge, from eyeballs to hearts,” he said. Etihad’s original deal with MLS was its first multiyear sports partnership in the U.S.

In 2015, Etihad became the exclusive airline partner of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, its three teams and the Verizon Center. Its largest relationship is with City Football Group, including being both the jersey and stadium naming-rights partner of Manchester City, a partnership estimated to be worth more than $98 million annually. It is also the jersey sponsor of NYCFC.

Etihad will receive assets similar to those provided by its previous deal, including its logo and brand messaging on LED field boards during nationally televised games. The brand will activate alongside MLS events.

As part of the announcement around the renewal, Etihad has partnered with the soccer personalities Men in Blazers on a video explaining the intersections between the carrier and MLS, as well as soccer’s increasingly global story. Etihad’s sports and lifestyle sponsorship agency is WME-IMG, and it works with Ketchum regarding communications in the U.S., Pierce said.

Carter said the renewal and activation strategy reflect the growing reach of MLS. “There’s really been an evolution in the last couple of years in regards to the global narrative around the league,” she said. “I think when you look at the trajectory on that front, MLS has still only scratched the surface.”

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