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Sponsorship is no joke

Q. What’s the difference between Aeroflot and a Scud missile?

A. Aeroflot has killed more people.

But now Aeroflot has got into bed with the global super brand that is Manchester United, pushing Turkish Airlines out from beneath the duvet marked 'Official Carrier' (

Naturally United isn’t about to tell anyone how much it is being paid, only that the fee is higher than that coughed-up by the previous incumbent . But what seems certain is that it’s a cracking deal for the Russian outfit.

Aeroflot may have a young fleet of Boeings and Airbuses but the company has been saddled with reputational baggage that’s been hanging around since the Soviet era. To much of the world, Aeroflot meant unreliability, poor and surly service and a worse-than-dodgy safety record. And that’s an image that has been slow to shift.

Almost everybody I have met who has flown with the airline has raved about it but buddying up with a blue chip brand like United, and the deal is certain to accelerate the change in perception.

So while the United tie-up neatly ticks the box marked brand, what about the one for business?

There too this looks like a good deal. Aeroflot is marketing itself as the fastest route between Europe and Asia via its Moscow hub but, as somebody once said, not a lot of people know that.

Whatever the real accuracy of the official figures, there can be no doubt that United is a massively popular club in Asia and if Aeroflot gets it right, it should come to enjoy the same sort of route-specific awareness that Emirates and others have established.

Airlines and football clubs have come a long way since the red and blue shirts of the mighty Crystal Palace urged punters to ‘Fly Virgin to LA.’ Now Emirates is across Europe like a rash, Etihad owns a swathe of Manchester and Qatar Airways adorns the shirts of FC Barcelona.

Airlines have become central to national brand-building for regions anxious to make their mark on the world and football is playing a key role in the process. And while Aeroflot won’t have the United’s shirtfronts, it will have digital perimeter boards at Old Trafford reaching out to a massive global audience and the opportunity to do some clever creative things with players. If it gets it right, it may become the most cost-effective deal in its category.

And that, it will pray, will help put an end to jokes like that.

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