Turkish Airlines has added German highflier Borussia Dortmund to its sponsorship roster, taking fierce competition with Gulf carriers from the skies to the world's premier football stadiums.
After mythic clubs Barcelona FC and Manchester United, Dortmund is the third football giant to be sponsored by THY, which is vying to dominate the airways with just-as ambitious Gulf carriers, such as Emirates and Qatar Airways.
The deal, estimated in the tens of millions of euros, is well timed, coming just as Dortmund secured its place in an all-German Champions League final against Bayern Munich on May 25, in what sports analysts said was a Bundesliga resurgence.
"In our pursuit of marketing our product and shaping our brand, we have taken on sports to represent our face to the public," said THY chairman Hamdi Topcu.Crowned best European airline in 2011 and 2012, Turkish Airlines is expanding furiously and chalking up clear victories in an industry known for cut-throat rivalries worthy of the Premier League.
The airline carried 39 million passengers in 2012 -- Emirates carried 34 million -- and paid $20 billion for some 200 Boeing and Airbus jets in a frantic push to carry 96 million passengers by 2020, when it hopes Istanbul will have beaten Madrid and Tokyo to host the Summer Olympics.
The idea is to advertise a "good product to provide us with visibility across the world," said Ali Genc, deputy chairperson at the airline.
The push has already paid off, at least on the web, with a television ad featuring basketball superstar Kobe Bryant and Lionel Messi, the football living legend, viewed over 100 million times.
"Sport sponsorships is like fireworks," said Lionel Maltese, a marketing professor at Aix Marseille University in France, explaining the "big buzz" an airline gets for bankrolling sports glory.
But a famous name comes with a price, experts say, especially when economies flush with petrodollars are on the hunt for exposure.
In football, Dubai-based Emirates is now patron to Paris St.Germain, AC Milan and has long backed Arsenal, whose home field was named Emirates Stadium in a game-changing 2004 deal worth $200 million.Emirates will also sponsor 15 of Formula One's 19 Grand Prix over the next five seasons.
"It is very simple -- sports sponsoring is very successful because people tend to remember sports more than anything else," said Boutros Boutros, the head of Emirates' Corporate Communications.
"We also sponsor festivals, expositions and concerts but nobody seems to pay attention to that," Boutros said, noting that passenger numbers rose more than ten-fold since 2000 when the company first started sponsorships.
According to chief executive Ahmad bin Said al-Maktoum, Emirates sets aside $227 million every year for sport sponsorships.
Turkish Airlines, which entered the fray much later, chose "eye-catching sponsorships... at the expense of short term profitability," said Emre Akcakmak, a senior analyst from East Capital.But the effort was worth it, he said, with THY's passenger numbers and profitability rising remarkably over the years.
The competition never lets up however, with companies running the risk of "looking less famous or less attractive" if they step out of the game, Maltese warned.
In November, Qatar Airways replaced THY in a surprise jersey deal with Barcelona worth 170 million euros. And unsurprisingly, Qatar Airways will also stamp its logo on the 2022 World Cup when home city Doha hosts the huge event.
THY, which refuses to announce sponsorship costs, is now trying to bag a "world-famous golfer," the airline's Genc said.
"The airline is playing at the top league in this competition, why would its sponsorships be any less than the best?"
Whipping out the cheque-book is an "undeniable reality," he said.
In the end "it all came together for us, the sponsorships have more than paid off."