Football fans are jumping for joy as the Dubai Football Challenge, with a friendly match between Real Madrid and AC Milan, approaches.
The teams – with players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Keisuke Honda, guest Kaka and the Italian-Egyptian Stephan El Shaarawy all expected to make an appearance – will face off on 30 December 2014 at The Sevens Stadium.
It’s no surprise that tickets to the friendly are in exceedingly short supply. This region’s love of football is a well-known fact and, apart from UAE residents, local businesses have lucrative tie-ups with various international football clubs. Examples include shirt partnerships, stadium naming rights and football academies.
Even banks in the UAE have partnered with football clubs, bringing die-hard fans financial products which show support for their favorite teams. Most recently, Real Madrid partnered with National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD), making them their official banking partners in the UAE.
Region’s official shirt sponsors
Gulf airlines such as Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways are well known names in the football world. Their presence in international football can’t be ignored, with many team jerseys branded with their official logo.
Emirates has multiple sponsorship deals with international football clubs. The airline is the official shirt sponsor for clubs such as Arsenal, AC Milan, Hamburg, Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid, and also sponsors major football events such as the FIFA World Cup and FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Etihad Airways is in a 10-year partnership with Manchester City, providing the English club immense financial support in return for its brand name on their team jersey. It is also shirt sponsor for New York City FC.
Gulf’s naming rights
And Emirates isn’t the only Gulf stakeholder in Real Madrid; Abu Dhabi’s International Petroleum Investment Company (Ipic) recently started a partnership with the Spanish club. Ipic will be providing financial support in the form of $68bn to build the new Real stadium. The specific terms have yet to be revealed, but rumor has it that the naming rights to the Bernabeu stadium are up for grabs.
Other clubs that have already sold their naming rights include Arsenal. In 2006, Emirates signed a deal with the English club including naming rights. The club’s current home is now called Emirates Stadium.
Manchester City is in a similar agreement with Etihad Airways. The club’s ground was renamed Etihad Stadium after both parties signed a £400m agreement.
FC Barcelona is another Spanish club in partnership with a GCC business – this time Qatar Airways. While the club stadium still retains its original name, Camp Nou, Qatar Airways branding is present on FC Barcelona stadium and jerseys.
Clubs come to town
UAE has opened its doors to international clubs in the form of training schools, cafes and resorts. The likes of Arsenal, Manchester City, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus all have football academies, where kids between the ages of four and 20 can get professional football training.
Football’s presence can also be seen in the form of Real Madrid Cafe on JBR (and the team will be visiting it on 29 December before their friendly) and the Manchester City’s store in Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi. CitySorte is one of the first official, independent English Football League stores in the UAE.
And there’s more. Projects to look out for include a possible Real Madrid Theme park. Real Madrid had announced (but then backed out of) plans to open a football resort on Marjan Islands in Ras Al Khaimah, with a football academy, stadium, mall, hotel and residential housing.
However, Real Madrid’s president Florentino Perez has suggested that the club may still be opening a theme park in Abu Dhabi.
Meanwhile, enjoy the beautiful game – if you’ve been lucky enough to get tickets.