The U.S. Tennis Association will put Emirates Airline's name in front of North America's premier series of summer tennis tournaments, giving the United Arab Emirates a high-profile foothold in U.S. sports.
The seven-year deal between the USTA and the state-owned airline is valued at more than $90 million, people familiar with the terms said.
Effective immediately, professional tennis's summer schedule will become the Emirates Airline U.S. Open Series, with the airline succeeding Japan's Olympus Corp. as the series' title sponsor. The Japanese camera maker two years ago chose to end its sponsorship. Emirates also will become the official airline of the U.S. Open and has committed to spending $2.5 million on promotion and hospitality annually at the events.
For the USTA, the deal represents an effort to build the global cachet of the U.S. Open and the smaller tournaments that make up the U.S. Open Series, said Lew Sherr, who is the organization's chief revenue officer. "This is an alignment of two brands with similar interests," Mr. Sherr said. "They are a prestigious airline, and we think of the U.S. Open as one of the most prestigious tournaments in the world."
For Emirates, the deal is part of the airline's latest step in sports marketing world-wide. The company has the naming rights to Arsenal's soccer stadium in London, a sponsorship deal with the soccer club AC Milan and deals with 15 golf events. "We are in sports because they are watched globally and we can guarantee a global reach," said Boutros Boutros, the airline's senior vice president for communications.
Mr. Sherr said that he and his colleagues "did our due diligence" before deciding to use the name of a Mideast oil state for the USTA's marquee event, risking that some Americans won't distinguish between friendly and hostile Arab countries. "We have partnerships with brands from around the world," he said. "It validates the stature and international nature of the series."
In 2009 the U.A.E. denied Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer a visa to play in a tournament in Dubai, citing security concerns. The move sparked criticism from players, sponsors and the Women's Tennis Association, and Ms. Peer did get a visa the following year. Israelis typically can't get U.A.E. visas, however.
Four years ago, Jewish groups pressured the New York Jets and Giants to quash a proposed deal to name their football venue Allianz Stadium, citing the company's involvement with Nazi Germany some 70 years earlier.
Mr. Boutros said the airline hasn't experienced a backlash from its sponsorships of sports teams or civic entities, such as the San Francisco Symphony. "People who love sports understand your contribution and they love it," he said.
Thoughts? Good for attracting more fans? Will bring in more money for USTA, which is a good thing.