Boutros Boutros, Emirates Divisional Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications, Marketing and Brand, tells Sport Industry Insider why the Rugby World Cup is a key part of the airline’s sponsorship portfolio.

How did the Rugby World Cup come to be part of Emirates’ sponsorship portfolio?

Emirates is a staunch supporter of rugby worldwide with an extensive portfolio of top-class rugby sponsorships. Our support for Rugby World Cup (RWC) kicked off in France in 2007 as a tournament sponsor. We then became a worldwide partner for RWC 2011 in New Zealand, and in 2013, the first Worldwide Partner to sign an agreement for both RWC 2015 in England and 2019, in Japan. We also sponsor the Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens and the HSBC Cape Town Sevens.

In 2013, Emirates extended its sponsorship of World Rugby match officials until the end of 2019, which included for the first time in RWC history the rights to brand the shirts of match officials on the field of play during the tournament. Since the inception of RWC in 1987, no brand has ever featured on the playing kits of players or match officials.

Through our rugby sponsorships, we are able to connect with fans worldwide through a shared passion.  

What is the value of Rugby World Cup as a property?

It gives Emirates the opportunity to connect with rugby fans across the world and to add real value to sporting experiences. Our association with Rugby World Cup reaffirms our commitment to the sport and to bringing people together under a shared passion. The RWC is the third largest sports event in the world and more than 1.8 million fans attended the tournament in Japan over the six-week period. Of this figure, more than 400,000 were international fans. The tournament is an ideal platform to reach a global audience, connect with rugby fans worldwide, and bring communities together by providing memorable experiences.

In what ways has Emirates activated its Rugby World Cup sponsorship?

As worldwide partners of Rugby World Cup 2019, Emirates utilised its global reach to bring fans around the world closer to the game. We announced a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for young fans to join the sport’s showcase event as official flag bearers. As part of the RWC 2019 Emirates Flag Bearers campaign, fans from Japan, UK, France, Ireland, Argentina, South Africa and the UAE had a chance to lead teams out onto the pitch and participate in the pre-kick-off anthem ceremonies for the pool stage matches, as well as the quarter-finals, semi-finals and the final. Through this programme, we are very proud and pleased to offer young rugby fans a unique and unforgettable experience.

Emirates supported the RWC 2019 Volunteer Programme, in which the airline extended bespoke benefits – inducing offering special ticket fares and reserving flag bearer positions – to the 14,000 volunteers selected to assist with various services during the tournament.  Emirates was also proud to carry the Webb Ellis Cup on an Emirates flight from Dubai to Tokyo, to mark the 100-day countdown until Rugby World Cup 2019 kicked off. Former World Rugby players, Bryan Habana and Shane Williams, stepped out of the Emirates A380 aircraft to present the coveted trophy to Japan’s organising committee.

To promote Rugby World Cup 2019 on-board, Emirates screened the competition’s matches live on its dedicated in-flight sports channel, Sport 24, available on ice – the airline’s award-winning in-flight entertainment system. Emirates currently has 175 aircraft equipped with Live TV including all Boeing 777 aircraft and also screened the matches live on the 55-inch screen at the iconic on-board lounge on select A380 aircraft.

We teamed up with famous World Rugby and Welsh Rugby referee, Nigel Owens, to create an entertaining and engaging campaign around rugby etiquette. The campaign, “Emirates etiquette guide to Rugby World Cup 2019”, comprised a series of short, lighthearted and witty videos published across the airline’s digital channels and social platforms. The series sees Nigel humorously blowing the whistle on bad traveler etiquette during flights.

The partnership also included Emirates branding on-site across the stadium, hospitality chalet and ticketing rights as part of being a Worldwide Partner of RWC 2019.

Emirates Rugby World Cup Nigel Owens

Is there significantly more value as a title sponsor of an event?

Sponsorship has always formed an integral part of our global strategy and still plays a key role in global brand recognition. Essentially, being a title sponsor offers more entitlements and benefits which allows us to maximize brand exposure and reach a wider audience. However the sport with the largest reach is not necessarily always the best fit for Emirates. We mainly look for partnerships that will not only help form positive associations of the Emirates brand but also pave ways to engage with our customers across various interests and passions.

We carefully assess each and every sponsorship opportunity to ensure that it meets our objectives and fulfills our brand needs such as increasing brand visibility in a new market, connecting with global audiences under a shared passion, providing money-can’t-buy experiences to our customers, or supporting local communities.

Our main objective is to ensure we find ways to connect and interact with our customers across the world. Our sports portfolio allows us to establish relationships with fans who follow all sporting events including the ICC Cricket World Cup, ATP World Tour, major golf tournaments such as the European Tour, and some of the biggest names in club football, including shirt sponsors of leading European and international clubs like AC Milan, Real Madrid, Hamburger SV, Benfica SL and Arsenal in a deal which includes naming rights to Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium.

How do you measure the value of your sports sponsorship deals?

Sponsorship plays a critical role in building global brand recognition – it is a powerful platform that allows us to reach a wider audience and reap great value though our various marketing initiatives. Through our sponsorship rights, we maximize brand exposure by activating on-site branding, logo placement on jerseys as well as on-ground activations to ensure we engage and interact with fans every chance we get to.

Fans worldwide recognise our logo through television exposure, digital and media channels. Our partnerships allow us to create bespoke stories and content we can amplify through editorial means and on our social media platforms. Our vast sponsorship portfolio provides great value as it enables us to support and engage with local and global communities – bringing people together to discover, enjoy and share enriching experiences.

Emirates Boutros Boutros

Boutros Boutros: Emirates’ Divisional Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications, Marketing and Brand

How often do you assess your sports partnerships?

Each potential sponsorship is carefully considered on the basis of four major criteria. It must be a sport or an event which reflects the quality of Emirates; the event must be relevant to an Emirates destination; the event must have guaranteed television coverage and there must be a measurable return on the investment.

We’ve been committed to sponsorship in both the UAE and around the world for over 30 years. Emirates’ commitment to other sports includes horseracing (Dubai World Cup), tennis (ATP World Tour, Australian Open, French Open, US Open), golf (Emirates Australian Open Championship, DP World Tour Championship), cricket (all major ICC events and ICC Elite Panel of Umpires), as well as rugby (Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens, Emirates Lions, Cape Town Sevens, Rugby World Cup, World Rugby Referees and Match Officials).

Is it still the job of Emirates to help put Dubai on the map?

Dubai is a global hub and has become a global destination in itself, attracting millions of visitors each year.  From Emirates’ perspective, it is our unique differentiator, and its growth and attractiveness as a global destination is critical to our success.  Emirates will continue to drive growth and further elevate Dubai’s status as a global centre for trade, tourism and commerce and our mission has always been to connect the world to and through Dubai.

We have been working closely with DTCM for over 25 years to showcase Dubai through every possible touch point – whether at international industry events, sponsorship of global events in Dubai, joint marketing campaigns, and working with trade partners and tour operators to grow the city’s appeal through a diverse offering. We support a long list of DTCM-initiated events on the Dubai calendar which have helped to enhance the city’s appeal including: the Dubai Shopping Festival, Dubai Summer Surprises and Dubai Fitness Challenge, among others. This is why we continue to see steady growth in visitors to Dubai year on year travelling on Emirates, and we will continue to grow visitor numbers by constantly enhancing every aspect of Dubai’s destination offering in conjunction with DTCM and other local stakeholders, making our city the top choice for all types of travellers from across the globe.