Etihad Soars into Spanish Football: A Look at Sponsorships in La Liga

Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has taken flight in a new direction – Spanish football sponsorship. They’ve just signed a three-year deal to become the main sponsor of Girona FC, a rising star in La Liga. 

But Etihad isn’t the only company taking advantage of La Liga’s global reach. Sponsorship deals are a major revenue stream for the league’s clubs.  

Let’s delve deeper into this and find out which big companies are behind La Liga’s league sponsors ahead of the 2024-25 season.

A more ethical approach 

The rules for sponsoring La Liga clubs are stricter these days after the league pushed for a more ethical approach to deals. Central to this was a ban on gambling sponsors in 2021, as league bosses sought to promote responsible gambling among fans. 

Indeed, the league’s Big Three – Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Atletico Madrid all have major shirt sponsorship deals with non-gambling companies. The three deals brought in €180m  alone in 2023-24 with the benefactors being Emirates, Spotify, and RiyadhAir. 

There are still moral questions, however, about the source of funding from other sponsors, particularly in Saudi Arabia as is the case with Atletico’s deal. Visit Saudi, the nation’s official tourist board, also pumps 20 million Euros a season into the league’s coffers. Many people in soccer believe that Saudi-backed deals are vehicles for ‘sportswashing’ – a term referring to rich nations with questionable ethical reputations using sports to improve their public image.  

That said, the ethos has been to improve the league’s reputation in this regard, which is why you’ll find most of La Liga’s sponsors are from the entertainment and travel industries. 


The Etihad/Girona deal 

Girona soared to the Champions League spots in 2024, so it’s apt that one of the world’s biggest airlines has agreed a three-year deal to become their main sponsor. The company will plough €2m a year into the club in return for universal display of their logo across the team’s kit and merchandise. 

The airline has expanded its Spanish operations recently, increasing its weekly flights to both Madrid and Barcelona in 2022. The deal also coincides with the launch of new seasonal flights to Málaga, as travel connections between the two countries continue to grow. 

The sponsorship doesn’t just have commercial benefits, but both club and company have stated that they share similar ambitions.  

“This partnership reflects our commitment to the Spanish market and our desire to strengthen ties between the UAE and Spain,” said Arik De, Chief Revenue and Commercial Officer of Etihad Airways. “We look forward to working with Girona FC to bring our worlds closer together through football.” 

Delfí Geli, President of Girona FC, echoed this, emphasizing the collaborative nature of the deal. “We are incredibly proud to welcome Etihad Airways as our main sponsor. This is more than a traditional sponsorship; it’s a chance to grow together in the years to come.” 

Fans can expect new opportunities, including events celebrating the cultural and sporting connection between the UAE and Spain. Etihad’s logo will be prominently displayed on Girona’s kits and within their home stadium, Estadi Montilivi. 

But what next for La Liga when it comes to sponsorship deals? Will it go the same way as the world’s richest league, the English Premier League? 

A future of mega-money deals? 

Etihad Airways’ sponsorship of one of La Liga’s top sides could signal the start of a new era of big-money deals.  

The UAE airline’s growing presence is just one example of broader interest from Middle Eastern companies in La Liga’s global reach and established football culture. 

This trend could accelerate with more Middle Eastern airlines and other businesses seeking brand exposure in a similar way.  

Yet the cloud hanging over all of this is the black marks against Saudi Arabia’s name that will always attract criticism should they strike a deal with any of Spain’s top clubs. The sport’s traditionalists believe that football must always keep its core principles of integrity, honesty, and professionalism in mind when it comes to business deals.  

The league’s organizers must therefore strike the balance between supporting La Liga financially and staying true to its ideological ideals. 

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