Emirates is one of the world’s biggest sporting sponsors, receiving 300 requests a week for support across a wide range of activities.
One of their key investments is in the Rugby World Cup.
We sat down this week with Emirates Country Manager for Ireland Enda Corneille to discuss the reasons why the airline chose to get involved with the tournament, the imaginative way in which it has created content to tell interesting stories, and how it has the exclusive rights to broadcast every game in the tournament live to its airborne fleet of more than 200 aircraft.
Sport for Business: Emirates has a history of involvement with the tournament. This is the fourth cycle you’ve been involved in. How has that changed and developed over time?
Enda Corneille: Our history with rugby goes back even further as the sponsor of the Dubai Sevens and this year we are doing the Capetown Sevens as well.
Our company strategy has been to align with major sports across the globe. We have major commitments in soccer, in golf with the European Tour, in sailing and in Rugby. It was inevitable that we would get involved in the Rugby World Cup and we did that in France as a local partner in 2007 then as a worldwide partner since 2011.
That confers more rights, benefits and obligations and we have built a very strong platform around the tournament.
Everything about it has grown significantly and I think we have grown in terms of understanding what we can do around it as well.
SfB: What is the main thing you look to gain from your association with the tournament?
Our motivation is to drive brand awareness and brand preference for Emirates. It’s about pointing out the benefits of our service and our reach.
As technology has developed over the last decade the power of digital has become ever more important as a means of telling our story in many different ways.
Digital activation allows us to reach different audiences and tell the story in a far more effective way. One of the things we did this year was to paint the planes in different decals and we captured that story and shared it, bringing people behind the scenes of the attention to detail that goes into everything at Emirates. We did the same with the journey of the Webb Ellis trophy and had some fun with that.
SfB: That sense of showing people how you are getting involved is obviously of interest in our world of sport and business but is it crossing over now into mainstream consumer interest?
EC: Oh absolutely. Consumers are far more interested now in what goes on behind the curtain. It creates a buzz and while people are hungry for content, there is only so much that an individual player can say to feed that so sponsors are becoming ever more important as content creators.
The Rugby World cup allows us to tell a story around the brand and make it more relatable. We have different needs around the brand in different markets but creating stories around a global event allows us to do that in a number of different ways and in a way where we control the output and the tone of voice.
SfB: You show all the games live on your aircraft, is that a popular addition to the service?
They are shown live on all of our Boeing 777 aircraft which is something we could never have done back in 2007.
We are also showing them on the 55-inch screens in the iconic lounges on the 380 aircraft.
It not only brings the game alive but it creates a huge sense of community as well which is something different to the traditional experience of flying.
Emirates has always been to the fore in terms of inflight entertainment. We are now offering 4,500 channels and showing an increasing amount of live coverage on our Sport 24 channel. It’s becoming an important part of the offering and links in with the events where we are involved so the branding is doubling down in its importance to the Emirates experience.
We have 263 aircraft in the fleet and many are in the air at the same time so its a big audience that never previously existed.
How did the Nigel Owen’s videos come about?
We have been involved in sponsorship of the referees with World Rugby for a long period and this was a way in which we could have a bit of fun and make our involvement with the tournament a little more real as well.
Nigel recorded a series of ‘etiquette’ videos which were fun to make and have travelled well in flight and in the wider digital space.
SfB: You’re the only logo on the pitch at the World Cup as well which must be a winner?
EC: Yes the team sponsors do not get to have their logo’s on the shirts at the Rugby World Cup which does give us something a little different and it all goes into telling the story of Emirates Fly Better on a global stage.
SfB: How about the local activation on the ground?
EC: We have looked at the core rugby playing nations and each of those have their own activations. The flag bearer promotion is across all of them and has been very popular. our local winner was so excited and it was great to see them walking out with Rory Best in the first game.
We brought Wayne Barmes over for a special event and we also screened the Scotland game for customers and connections in the cinema at Dundrum. It was a wet Sunday morning but the cinema was packed at 0740 in the morning and there was a great atmosphere around the whole experience.
We’ve also been able to offer ‘money can’t buy’ experiences and those are the kind of things that cement a relationship with us as a long haul partner of choice.
SfB: How many people have you flown out to Japan for the World Cup so far?
EC: In total, we will have carried around 3,000 people from Dublin. There was a big group that travelled before the tournament and more in smaller groups since then. We do play in the rugby space so a lot of our customers will be aware of that and been entertained or connected within a rugby context.
As Ireland’s tournament progresses there will be more and it has been a great success from a commercial perspective.
SfB: Does Rugby’s perceived higher-end demographic fit well with the Emirates offering.
EC: Oh you’d be surprised. We have a very strong front of aircraft offering but we are competitive across a wide range of customer segments. We have 720 seats leaving Dublin for the world every day and 620 of them are in economy where we are a competitive player in the market.
SfB: How has your involvement with the Irish Open on the European Tour been?
EC: We are major partners of the European Tour and the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open is a special event.
Moving it outside of Dublin and around the country has been a great thing for us as well. Allowing us to engage with customers from around the country, creating memorable experiences for them.
SfB: Japan and the early kick offs has been a challenge for beer sponsors but it’s been especially good for you I’d imagine.
EC: Yes more will fly with us to Japan than would be the case to France next time around. 25 per cent of our traffic stays in Dubai with the bulk travelling on around the world. Bring the number we have to Japan has been good for business and we are not done yet on that front.
Image Credit: World Rugby via Getty Images