Emirates airline is looking to sign a sponsorship deal with a major Madrid-based football club as it attempts to break into the lucrative Spanish market, Emirates Business can exclusively reveal.
The Dubai-based carrier is yet to offer a direct route to the Spanish capital, but Maurice Flanagan, executive vice-chairman of Emirates, revealed the airline intends to soon fly to both Madrid and Barcelona.
Opening new routes, he says, opens new doors.
"We have plans to fly direct to Madrid and Barcelona so it makes sense to sponsor a [football] team that is near where we fly," he said.
"That is the case obviously with Arsenal and London, Hamburg in Germany, Paris St Germain in France… and Milan is a very important route for us."
Emirates upgraded their deal with AC Milan in January when the Italian outfit visited the UAE to compete in the Dubai Football Challenge.
And being a "top tier" sponsor, says Flanagan, is very important. "Football sponsorships are extremely successful because sponsorships is about raising awareness. But not any old awareness, it's got to be favourable awareness," he said.
"When you are sponsoring top football teams who get comprehensive TV coverage worldwide, it's a great plus-point."
Flanagan added that while it is near impossible to estimate the value of such deals, there is no denying the benefits of sports sponsorships.
"Nobody has ever invented a way of attaching expenditure on promotions or advertising to actual final results," he added.
"But everybody knows if you raise favourable awareness it's going to help build your brand."
Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman and chief executive of Emirates, is equally enamoured with using sport to grow the company – the airline was titlesponsor of the first powerboat race held in Dubai in 1987 and now sponsors almost every major sports event held in the emirate.
"Sport is very, very important to Emirates," said Sheikh Ahmed.
"The main reason being that sport is followed by nearly everybody from small children to those older.
"We have found that sport has brought a lot of promotion for the airline worldwide and also introduced the UAE as a country and Dubai as a city to the world."
Sheikh Ahmed confirmed the plans to extend Emirates' reach to the Mediterranean.
"One of the places we are looking to expand to is Madrid. I am sure that when the time comes, we will look at that because football is such a big thing there.
"We always look for teams that have a big base in terms of support, success within that country and city and followed internationally."
In 2007, Atletico Madrid announced a three-year deal with Finnish gambling company PAF. Real Madrid are in the second year of a three-year shirt deal with Bwin.
The international online gaming company are also shirt sponsors of AC Milan.