Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Why is Turkish Airlines sponsoring F.C. Barcelona?

Turkey's flag carrier made the headlines of the Spanish sports press by announcing an sponsorship deal with F.C. Barcelona. As detailed in this press release, and without having more details about it, it seems that the Turkish carrier will not only airlift the team to all its away international games but will also pay 7.7 million euros as part of the sponsorship agreement, the airline's logo will, inn turn, feature prominently in the club's website and marketing material, joining the likes of Nike and Audi to become one of the club's international sponsors.

The airline has struck a similar deal with another of Europe's most prominent football teams, Manchester United.

Why would Turkish Airlines pay so much to sponsor two football teams so far from home?

This strategy makes sense if we look at the extensive intercontinental network that Turkish Airlines (THY) has been building and its future expansion plans. As Hmadi Topçu, the company chairman explains in the airline's own in-flight magazine, the company has grown from 10 million to 26 million passengers since the year 2003 , the fleet has expanded from 65 to 135 and the number of destinations from 104 to 156 (the route map looks certainly impressive at includes destinations where not many international airlines go, such as the Central Asian capitals).

Turkish Airlines must attract lots of transfer passengers to its Istanbul hub in order to sustain this expansion strategy and fill all this capacity. Istanbul's location might make sense for passengers connecting from Western Europe to Asia and the middle East, after all, Istanbul has been since its foundation an important trading entrêpot. This strategy would mimic that implemented by the Gulf airlines, such as Emirates and Etihad, that are challenging long-established Western hubs such as Paris and Frankfurt in providing West to East connections.

One of the obstacles to succeed in such an strategy is that Turkish Airlines is not a name that comes naturally to the mind of many European travelers when researching travel options. Gaining visibility and reputation by associating itself with well known and successful sports brands, together with competitive pricing, might help overcome this situation.

In the case of the Barcelona deal, it also does help that Turkish Airlines is seeking to get a more important presence at the Barcelona-El Prat (BCN), where it now flies twice daily. Turkish Airlines originally planned to increase to three its daily frequencies between Barcelona and Istanbul and even base one of its aircraft at BCN. There was the obstacle that, as an airline from a non-EU country, Turkish Airlines was already covering the number of frequencies allowed by bilateral agreements, but we believe this obstacle has been removed with the liberalization of air traffic between the EU and Turkey.

Additionally, fellow Star Alliance partner, Barcelona-based Spanair has also started flights to Istanbul in code share with Turkish Airlines. One more F.C.Barcelona connection here: Spanair's executive chairman, Ferran Soriano, used to be a member of F.C.Barcelona's board and is now on one of the electoral tickets contesting the upcoming F.C. Barcelona election.


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