So English premiership side Manchester City have today confirmed that its City of Manchester Stadium, aka Eastlands, will from today onwards be know as the Etihad Stadium, as part of a expanded long-term sponsorship deal with the Gulf carrier. It follows in the footsteps of several other English football clubs in selling the naming rights to the stadium – notably Arsenal which play their home matches at the Emirates.
In many ways Manchester City and Etihad have mirroring ambitions, as both have been more recent arrivals to the top table. The Abu Dhabi-based carrier has rapidly grown to a $3 billion business since its launch in 2003 and has already climbed into the top 50 biggest airlines by revenue in 2010 (look out for annual rankings of the top 150 airlines in our August issue). And with a 100 aircraft on order has plenty of scope for more growth.
Man City meanwhile, after three decades in the doldrums and some pretty eye-popping transfer spending, finally last season broke the big four’s stranglehold on Champions League football and will this season be looking to go one better and usurp arch rivals Manchester United’s grip on the Premiership (apart from talisman Carlos Tevez who is looking for a transfer).
It’s all a far cry from when Man City were playing in English football’s third tier back as recently as 1999 at its old Maine Road ground – dubbed the Theatre of Base Comedy (in contrast to Man United’s Theatre of Dreams) by City fan and commentator Stuart Hall.
We wait to see how long it will be for the Etihad name enters the lexicon of football supporters in the same way Emirates does at Arsenal – the latter was aided by it being a new stadium which didn’t have any previous names.
And will more airlines follow suit? Could QPR one days be playing at Gulf Air Road? Or maybe Luton will play their home games at EasyJet Road.