While the airline industry has seen a downturn as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is still a thriving part of the sport sponsorship landscape. Many teams and clubs around the world have partnerships with these major airlines as they serve hold designations as “Official Airline/Official Partner” and “Airline Partner/Airline Sponsor” for many iconic sports brands.
This influence holds true in particular within the realm of soccer. A handful of airlines have strategically with major powerhouses throughout the globe in order to blanket their growth and enhance brand awareness within different markets. And with the walking billboard of kit sponsorships, these Middle Eastern brands truly become synonymous with the football clubs that they invest in.
Examples include Dubai-based Emirates (Real Madrid, Arsenal), Qatar Airways (FC Barcelona, AS Roma), Etihad Airways (Manchester City). Additionally, Qatar Airways has its hand in many major football sporting events as they are the Official Sponsor and Official Airline Partner of FIFA and the upcoming FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.
In North America, many airlines hold sponsorships with numerous teams. For example, American Airlines serves as the title sponsor for the Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Stars’ American Airlines Arena while United Airlines holds the naming rights for the Chicago Bulls and Chicago Blackhawks’ United Center . Meanwhile, the Super Bowl has been a marquee event for brands to activate commercial spots. Last year’s Super Bowl in Miami saw Turkish Airlines host a powerful advertisement aimed at the approximate 40% of Americans who have never traveled abroad.
All this being said, it is no secret that many athletes are a premier driver for marketing activation. As individuals who spend much of their playing career traveling to and from games, they know a thing or two about what optimal traveling looks like. This doesn’t even include all of the worldly adventures that athletes partake in during the offseason.
The best part is that airlines recognize this and they recognize the human emotion associated with sports. It’s no wonder that so many of the athlete endorsements listed below feature campaigns geared towards inspiring fans to explore untouched possibilities.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the top athlete airline sports sponsorships in terms of social following:
6. Norman Powell | NBA: Air Canada
Instagram Following: 331,000
Facebook Following: 69,000
Twitter Following: 60,000
Total Following: 460,000
Powell capitalized on the Toronto Raptors’ successful 2019 NBA Finals run by teaming up with Air Canada. After a win in Scotiabank Arena, Powell took to social media, urging fans to take a photo with hashtag #ACFanFlight and tag @aircanada for a chance to win a trip to watch Game 4 in Golden State.
5. Ons Jabeur | WTA: Qatar Airways
Facebook Following: 817,000
Instagram Following: 215,000
Twitter Following: 30,000
Total Following: 1 million
Jabeur inked a sponsorship deal with Qatar Airways in December 2020. The airline’s logo will be displayed on the Tunisian’s uniform during matchdays throughout 2021.
4. Kei Nishikori | WTP: Japan Airlines
Twitter Following: 1 million
Facebook Following: 723,000
Instagram Following: 540,000
Total Following: 2.2 million
3. Todd Gurley II | NFL: American Airlines
Instagram Following: 1.8 million
Twitter Following: 729,000
Facebook Following: 121,000
Total Following: 2.6 million
While with the Los Angeles Rams, the running back served his role as an American Airlines ambassador by allowing fans to enter-to-win a VIP package including a pre-game meeting and selfie and watching the game in a field suite. As a founding partner of Sofi Stadium and Hollywood Park, and with the naming rights to the American Airlines Plaza within the stadium, plans were in place to also have winners tour the new facility before COVID-19’s impact.
2. Russell Wilson | NFL: Alaska Airlines
Twitter Following: 5.5 million
Instagram Following: 4.9 million
Facebook Following: 2.2 million
Total Following: 12.6 million
Wilson has been the airline’s “Chief Football Officer” since 2013. Since then, the airline sponsorship has seen the activation of numerous cause-driven campaigns including domestic violence awareness and fighting against childhood cancer.
To kick off the 2018 season, the airline debuted a new livery featuring Wilson and his phrase “Dream Big. Fly High.” The campaign centered around Wilson’s community initiative of giving back to the next generation.
In one of the more unique activations from this season, the quarterback put a little added sky-high pressure on his game performance. For every touchdown that Wilson threw or ran for during home games, fans would score discounted air travel, up to 40%, which was available on Alaska Airlines’ social media and website after the applicable game concluded. After the Seahawks’ Week 16 victory, the campaign called an audible, allowing all fans to redeem a BOGO flight within the 2021 year.
1. Kevin Durant | NBA: Alaska Airlines
Twitter Following: 18.6 million
Facebook Following: 11.8 million
Instagram Following: 11.7 million
Total Following: 42.1 million
Durant assumed the title of “Advisor to the CEO” when he forged his exclusive partnership with Alaska Airlines back in 2017. Much of Durant’s initiative have been geared towards giving back to local Bay Area communities.
The relationship between the two have been activated in the most wholesome of way. In 2018, the airline revealed a new livery pay homage to Durant’s impressive wingspan in his own right ahead of the 2018 NBA Finals.
Months later, the basketball phenom surprised 46 youth basketball players on the airline’s “Flight 35“. With Durant boarding the first flight from Los Angeles to Oakland, the superstar mingled with players before touching down in Oakland during the layover. Once there, Durant gifted each player his latest signature Nike shoe, the KD11, with each player having the opportunity to customize the laces. During the route’s journey to the destination for the Bigfoot Hoops Las Vegas Classic, the forward worked the beverage cart as he distributed SLAM Magazines that were uniquely customized for each player to have their own image plastered on the cover.
The athletes listed above combine for a total social following of 60+ million. With more and more athletes honing their love of travel and showcasing such on social media, the sky truly is the limit for how the future of airline endorsements can be shaped.