Abu Dhabi is looking to position itself as a centre for international sporting events.
The new impetus comes as Etihad Airways yesterday teamed up with the Abu Dhabi Sports Council (ADSC) to attract global sporting events to the emirate.
A three-year deal focuses on a longer term vision rather than an event-by-event approach.
With several events, such as the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, already a staple of the sports calendar, it is hoped that the new partnership will build on this success, driving up tourism numbers and also encourage residents to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
“This agreement cements our work together to promote Abu Dhabi as an outstanding destination for major international sporting events,” said Hareb Almuhairy, senior vice president, corporate and international affairs, at Etihad. “These events bring considerable economic benefits, provide excellent opportunities for resident and visiting sports fans, and encourage a healthy and active lifestyle. If you take the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship as an example, this is one of the most popular sports in the UAE. The event attracts over 65,000 fans across four days of the tournament, and people join the tournament from nearly 30 countries.”
The airline did not disclose the value of the deal but said it is a “significant investment” and its cargo division will support with the transport of any sports equipment.
Aref Al Awani, ADSC’s general secretary, said the deal “represents a more structured and long-term approach” to evolving the emirate into a global sporting destination.
At least 15 events will be covered under the new partnership, including this month’s professional cycling race, the Abu Dhabi Tour. Other events include the ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi, the Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Open (Ladies European Tour), the Fina 10k Open Water World Championship and the Fina High Diving World Cup, the Fiba Basketball 3x3 World Championship, the Emirates Football Forum and the Abu Dhabi Ramadan Sports Festival.
It is expected that eventually, dozens of events will be jointly supported as new sports initiatives are attracted to the emirate.
While the cost of building the facilities and venues and the surrounding infrastructure has often been a deterrent to hosting global events, the popularity of cycling, triathlon and swimming has opened up opportunities across all the emirates.
“We have seen a huge increase in the number of participants for triathlons, with a 15 per cent jump in numbers for Dubai’s triathlon and an 8 per cent jump in the participants for Khorfakkan,” said Donal Killalea, the chief executive of Promo Seven Sports Marketing, which specialises in organising and marketing sports events in the region.
“As we have seen with Olympics and other international events, a permanent venue is no longer needed and temporary venues work perfectly well, bringing the costs down significantly. There are 28 sports in every Olympics and they are all global events. So there are plenty of sports that need international destinations, and the UAE now has a global pull.”
q&a Etihad Airways shares Abu Dhabi’s ambitions
Etihad Airways’ Hareb Almuhairy says the airline’s commitment to major sports events is in line with Abu Dhabi’s drive to become a global destination for sports.
What is the bigger picture here?
A vibrant sports sector is part of Abu Dhabi Vision 2030. The positive relationship between major sports events and tourism is well known, with benefits such as airline passenger traffic, hotel stays and visitor spend. A decade ago, Abu Dhabi was largely unknown in the international sports arena. All that has now changed as part of the UAE capital’s drive towards economic diversification.
What does the ADSC partnership mean for your global sports sponsorships?
Etihad has a strong and varied sponsorship presence across the world – from Major League Soccer in the US to Manchester City Football Club in the UK, all the way Down Under to Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, Australia. These are not part of the scope of the agreement and remain unchanged.
How many events does the agreement cover?
The agreement covers at least 15 events from this year to 2018 and could extend to dozens depending on what further sports events are brought to Abu Dhabi over the next three years.
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