Emirates, one of the UAE’s flag carriers, has signed a multiyear sponsorship deal with the US National Basketball Association (NBA) making it “Official Global Airline Partner of the NBA”. 

GlobalData analysts described the deal as a continuation of Emirates’ global sports sponsorship strategy, but with a target of much younger viewers than its soccer or tennis partnerships garner. 

The airline will also be the first title sponsor of the NBA Cup – an in-tournament competition which began in 2023 and is played alongside the conventional championship – and have its logo present on the referee’s jerseys during every NBA game. 

[It] helps take the NBA global

The referee jersey “patch” will debut at the NBA “All-Star Game” on 18 February. 

The value of the deal has not been revealed publicly at this stage, but if Emirates’ existing shirt sponsorships in European soccer are anything to go by, it is likely to run into the tens of millions of dollars. 

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The other side of the deal will see Emirates provide NBA content to customers on its in-flight entertainment systems (including long-form documentaries and interviews, but not live games), and see the airline stock NBA merchandise at the Emirates Store (in Dubai and online). Emirates Skywards members will be able to redeem airmiles to purchase the NBA-Emirates co-branded kit. 

Isiah Thomas, NBA Legend, with the Larry O’Brien Trophy and its new Emirates partners. Credit: Emirates/NBA.

Emirates said it has previously supported the sport of basketball in its home region, with notable fan bases in the UAE and Lebanon. 

Ahmed bin Saeed al Maktoum, Emirates CEO said: “With basketball’s popularity around the world, we are excited to work with one of the most globally recognized and prestigious professional leagues.  

“The NBA is a valuable addition to our sponsorship portfolio as it allows us to connect with a vast global fanbase, including in the U.S., where the game is an integral part of the country’s sport culture.”

GlobalData’s head of sports analysis Conrad Wiacek told Airport Technology the deal is designed to reach the under-30’s, and develop a key growing market in the US. 

“Emirates have a long history of using sponsorship to build their brand as well as highlighting key strategic routes – deals with the likes of Arsenal, Hamburg, AC Milan and Real Madrid have all been utilized to build the Emirates brand with a new audience. 

“What the partnership with the NBA offers the brand is direct access to a younger demographic, with the NBA having significant popularity with the under 30’s as well as utilizing the NBA’s significant presence across social media. With the NBA’s new TV deal coming in 2025, this deal signifies a long term commitment from Emirates to the future development of the league,” Wiacek explained. 

The Emirati presence in the US is growing, and a sign of the importance it regards the US market with, according to Wiacek.

“Emirates has utilized sponsorship in the US previously with partnerships with the US Open Tennis Championships in addition to numerous smaller scale tennis events, so the new partnership with the NBA plays into developing a presence in what is a key target market for the airline.” 

But it’s not the only target audience of such a deal. 

“Carrying NBA content as part of inflight entertainment offering helps take the NBA global, and with the next NBA superstar likely to be someone from outside the US, namely Victor Wembanyama, this deal will continue to elevate the Emirates brand in key European markets as well,” the GlobalData market expert explained.