Analysing the Potential Emirates-Anzhi Sponsorship Deal

Anzhi Arena in Makhachkala. Photo: Andy Shenk/RFN

If there’s a club in Russia that never fails to surprise, it’s the pearl of Dagestan, Anzhi Makhachkala.

In the 27 years the club has existed, Anzhi has seen it all. They’ve been purchased by a billionaire, signed players like Roberto Carlos and Samuel Eto’o, defeated Liverpool in the Europa League, got relegated to the FNL and then became worst team in Europe. Now, it has emerged that the Southern club could join many others in Europe sponsored by Arab airline giant Emirates. However, what possible form could this deal take, and what it would mean for Anzhi?

Since returning to the RPL in 2015, Anzhi has been plagued by setback after setback, finding it difficult to stay afloat, both on and off the pitch. In 2016, they stayed up after winning the relegation playoffs, in 2017 they finished 12th and avoided the playoffs due to a better head-to-head record, and this year they managed to avoid relegation after Amkar Perm went bankrupt and folded. Despite always “doing a Sam Allardyce” and avoiding relegation in the oddest circumstances, the club has been struggling to make ends meet.

Reports came out earlier this season that the club clcannot afford overheads (travel and wages etc) and still could go bust on any given day. This resulted in the #АнжиЖиви (Live Anzhi) social media campaign being started in order to raise awareness (and funds) for the dying club. Though the campaign caught the attention of former Anzhi players like Carlos and Eto’o, it is unclear whether the club received any financial aid in the end. Even if it didn’t, it appears that the club’s owners have managed to gather sufficient funds to last finance this season.

In such dire circumstances, there is nothing that Anzhi wants more than a new owner, and/or a big sponsorship deal, and now it seems that they’ve got one of the latter on their hands. Club President Osman Kadiev recently revealed that the club is negotiating with the Emirates group, one of the largest and richest airline companies in the world, about becoming the side’s principal sponsor. Kadiev said that though there is nothing concrete as of yet, a deal with the Arabs could very well happen.

Just the mere sight of this quote raises a big question, “Why??!”, and justifiably so. Emirates already sponsors clubs like PSG, Arsenal, Benfica, Real Madrid and AC Milan, and it makes little sense to sponsor a cash-strapped, relegation-threatened club in Russia. There are a few answers to that question, which make the deal conceivable.

Benfica announcing a new sponsorship deal with Emirates in 2015 | National

Firstly, a deal with Anzhi would be extremely beneficial to the network Emirates is building. The airline, owned by the Emirate of Dubai has partners in each of Europe’s top five leagues*, and in six of the top seven (according to UEFA coefficients). The exception being Russia. Emirates isn’t a sponsor of any Russian club, and hence a deal would increase their reach in the country exponentially. It would also mean that the company will become the first and only entity to sponsor clubs in each of Europe’s top seven leagues, forming a monopoly of sorts. Still, the question has to be asked, “Why Anzhi specifically?”

Let’s have a look at the current state of sponsorship deals in Russia. The conventional top five (Zenit, Spartak, CSKA, Lokomotiv, Krasnodar) are all sponsored by rich entities, and benefit from the concomitant effects. In addition, Dinamo, Orenburg and Rubin all have prominent sponsors. Six of the remaining eight clubs also have some sort of a title sponsor. The two teams that are without such a benefactor at the moment, are Anzhi and Rostov**. This leaves Emirates without much, as it would not make a lot of sense for them to become the sleeve sponsors of say, Zenit, when they could become the principal ones of another club.

Coming to the most important, and biggest reason as to why Emirates would consider sponsoring Anzhi: their location. Dubai is well connected to all parts of Europe (maybe even the world) with a Muslim majority population, except for the North Caucasus. The only flight from Dagestan to Dubai is operated by the low-cost airline FlyDubai and is a weekly service. Nearby Stavropol has a wider range of options, but no high-level football club to sponsor. If and when Emirates officially becomes Anzhi’s sponsor, we can expect frequent direct flights from Makhachkala to Dubai. Similar services were started in Greece and Hamburg when the airline partnered with Olympiacos and Hamburg respectively.

Ufa and Grozny are also two big cities in Russia with large Muslim populations and RPL clubs, however, both pose significant issues for Emirates. Despite Ufa airport being one of the busiest in Russia, a very small minority of its population goes to Dubai, or out of Russia in general. Grozny’s airport is not as connected as the one in Dagestan, and a deal with a Chechen club could simply be too controversial, more so than with a Dagestani one. Anzhi also has an arguably bigger fanbase than Ufa and Akhmat.

The Uytash airport, almost equidistant from Kaspiysk (where Anzhi plays), and Makhachkala, is the only international airport in Dagestan, a region with a population of nearly three million people. It goes without saying, Emirates would capitalise on a largely untapped market, and reap huge profits.

Coming to what the deal will probably entail. First and foremost, the iconic ‘Fly Emirates’ tagline would embellish Anzhi’s jersey, and the club’s colours/players would embellish the Emirates planes flying in the region. The company’s logo and identity would be highly promoted at the Anzhi Arena, and the stadium may even be renamed to something like the Emirates Arena Makhachkala. As the airline will be the club’s title sponsor, it would also most probably earn hospitality rights at Anzhi games.

Obviously, such a deal would save the club, and resuscitate it. Emirates would also be involved in improving football infrastructure in Dagestan, as it has been in other countries, helping Anzhi and its image across Russia and the world. 61% of the income Russian clubs earn comes from sponsorship deals, a percentage higher than any league in Europe, hence the impact this deal would have on the club can’t be stressed enough.

Repeating myself, I think the deal is much realistic than it seems, and I would love to see it happen, however, its confirmation is still a long way apart. All we can do right now is hope that it does go through and saves Anzhi.

*Hamburg is currently in the Bundesliga 2, however, is still one of Germany’s best supported and biggest clubs. This is why we’ve mentioned them in the top 5.

**Rostov have also managed to find a sponsor for their shirt in recent weeks, however the nature and period of this deal is unclear.

Author: Hanu Trivedi

I went to Russia once and got mesmerised. Support CSKA and Real Madrid. Quite optimistic, I don’t know if that’s good or bad when talking about Russian Football.

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