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UAE: Sponsorship and Marketing

Deloitte estimates that the sponsorship spend for sports events in Dubai alone is about $100m per year, with 70 per cent of that figure attributed to the seven biggest events.

The tournaments in question are: golf’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic and the DP World Tour Championship Dubai; the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon; the Emirates Airline Dubai World Rugby Sevens; the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, which is also sponsored by JP Morgan; cycling’s Dubai Tour, which is supported by the Commercial Bank of Dubai; and Dubai World Cup horse racing, which has nine main sponsors. However, as Deloitte pointed out: “The majority of event financing comes from within Dubai. An increased level of sponsorship from non-Dubai entities would be necessary for events to increase their direct impact on Dubai’s economy.”

Of the UAE-based businesses, Emirates is the most prolific sponsor worldwide. Recent estimates suggest it spends close to $218m per year across 22 sports properties in football, golf, tennis, horse racing, motorsport, rugby union, cricket, sailing and Australian rules football. Most recently, it became title sponsor of English football’s FA Cup, an official partner of football’s UAE Arabian Gulf League and the premier partner of tennis’s ATP World Tour.

Etihad Airways is a big player too, especially through its partnership with English Premier League football club Manchester City. Some experts estimate Etihad’s sports sponsorship expenditure is about $100m per year.

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Main sponsor

Dubai Duty Free is the main sponsor of tennis and outdoor darts events staged at the tennis complex in Dubai. Outside of the UAE, the company sponsors horse racing through the Dubai Duty Free Stakes at Newbury in the UK; the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup at Ascot in the UK; and the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby Festival at the Curragh in the Republic of Ireland.

The company also sponsors golf’s Irish Open. The government of Dubai is a major sports sponsor itself. Through its communications advisory firm Falcon & Associates, it supports a huge tranche of UK horse racing as well as the Chinese Table Tennis Association. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, invests in horse racing through the Darley breeding and Godolphin businesses.

Below this top level are other UAE sponsors, such as telecommunications company Etisalat, investment firm Dubai World, insurance company Daman, property developer Damac Properties and construction companies Al Habtoor Group and Al Naboodah Construction Group.

There is also a whole raft of local companies offering a form of patronage sponsorship in order to ingratiate themselves with the ruling families. “This makes the sheikhs happy,” Cunningham said. “It’s still very commercial, though. By making [the sheikhs] happy, that can lead to other business returns.” Foreign retailers invest very little in UAE sports sponsorship. “They rely on the fact that their brand is enormous because of sponsorship in other territories,” Cunningham added. “The exceptions are HSBC, Rolex and Omega.”


When Dubai and Abu Dhabi first became serious players in global sport, there was a tendency for UAE sponsors to spend huge amounts of money but with little focus. Those days are now gone, according to Faber. “There are experienced and sophisticated marketing teams behind the big businesses and brands now,” he said. However, Faber conceded that UAE sponsorship is not always as strategic as it could be. “This is a very young industry in the UAE – one that has become genuinely strategic only over the last five years,” he said.

“Emirates has done very well on brand building. There is a perception across many markets that sponsorship is a form of badging or brand building; essentially advertising and maybe some hospitality. Brands don’t necessarily explore all the other aspects of the marketing mix. There’s a real lack of tangible measurement. The use of sponsorship to drive genuine commercial return in a sophisticated way does not happen here yet. What you get is quite an inefficient way of spending the marketing budget. Brands could target their marketing much better.”


Sports events and teams sponsored by Emirates airline

Australian Rules Football: Collingwood.

Cricket: Durham County Cricket Club; Emirates Old Trafford; International Cricket Council (ICC); ICC’s Elite Panel of ICC Umpires and Match Referees; Lancashire County Cricket Club.

Football: AC Milan; Arsenal FC; Asian Football Confederation; Benfica; The Emirates Cup; The Emirates FA Cup; Hamburger SV; New York Cosmos; Olympiacos FC; Paris Saint-Germain; Real Madrid CF.

Golf: Australian PGA Championship; Boeing Classic (USA); Emirates Australian Open; European Tour (19 events). Horse racing: Godolphin, the international horseracing stable; Carnivals: Dubai World Cup and Melbourne Cup;

Major races: Dubai World Cup, Emirates Melbourne Cup, Emirates Singapore Derby.

Motorsport: Formula One.

Rugby: Glasgow Sevens; Lions (South Africa); Rugby World Cup 2015 and 2019; USA Rugby; World Rugby Referees and Match Officials.

Sailing: Emirates Team New Zealand.

Tennis: ATP World Tour Finals; Barcelona Open; BNP Paribas Open; Emirates Airline ATP Rankings; Emirates Airline Australian Open Series; Emirates Airline US Open Series; Internazionali BNL d’Italia; Rogers Cup; Roland Garros.


To continue reading the UAE Focus, please click the links below:

Still On Top Of The World?

UAE: Sports Media

UAE: Sports Events

UAE: Stadia and Facilities

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