x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Blue Army hopes for cut-price Etihad flights

Manchester City fans in the UAE hope Etihad Airways will offer discounted flights to watch their beloved team following the carrier's new shirt sponsorship deal with the English football club.

ABU DHABI // Manchester City fans in the UAE hope Etihad Airways will offer discounted flights to watch their beloved team following the carrier's new shirt sponsorship deal with the English football club. David Hammett, the vice chairman of the Official Manchester City Supporters Club, said Sunday's announcement of a three-year agreement was good news for the club and would help raise its profile.

"A deal of this size and magnitude with such a prestigious company marks a huge step forward for Manchester City in its quest to become a globally recognised footballing powerhouse and further enhances the ties that already exist between Manchester and Abu Dhabi," he said. "It will inevitably help raise the club's profile and provide extra funds for some much-needed squad development. "We've all been extremely impressed with the Abu Dhabi United Group for Development and Investment's actions since they came on board last August and all we need now is for Etihad to sort the UAE's Blue Army out with some cheap flights home to watch the boys in action."

A former City season ticket holder, Glyn Ball, 40, who grew up in Gorton, east Manchester and moved to Dubai in 2007, said the sponsorship deal would strengthen the club. "I'm made up. I think it is a perfect fit for both sides," he said. "This can only help raise the profile of the team and help attract new fans from around the world." A spokesman for Etihad said he was not aware of any plans to offer discounted flights to Manchester City fans.

"We would be delighted to carry Manchester City fans travelling back to the UK to watch their team play at the City of Manchester Stadium," he said. "I haven't heard of any plan for flight discounts, but I cannot rule it out as an option for the future although the logistics could be quite difficult to arrange. "There would be a better chance of some kind of tie-in with the supporters' club to arrange cheaper air fares, but it is very early days."

Simon Chadwick, the director of the Centre for the International Business of Sport (CIBS) at Coventry University, said the deal would further enhance Etihad's and Abu Dhabi's image on a global scale. "Football clubs are, from now on, going to have to do business through strategic collaboration and by developing relationships. It is not just about handing over cash, but about developing strategic, win-win relationships," he said.

"For example, if you go on an Etihad flight, will you be able to buy a Manchester City shirt? If you go on the Man City website, will you be able to book an Etihad flight and get a discount if you are a City season ticket holder? "The other important point is image transfer through football. You have the world's richest football clubs, the richest, most glamorous league and the best-known footballers. All of those will transfer on to Etihad."

Etihad currently operates daily flights between Abu Dhabi and Manchester, although it is not known whether the airline plans to increase the frequency between the two destinations after the sponsorship announcement. @Email:chamilton@thenational.ae