Emirates' Singapore boss on World Cup impact

For Stephen Chu, the last few years have been a footballing revelation. "Before 2002, I really didn't pay much attention to football, let alone the World Cup and all its noise," the 62 year-old country head and area manager (Singapore and Brunei) of Emirates Airline confessed to Aldizon in the popular Singaporean tabloid, New Paper. "You could say that I wasn't really into it, although I did play some street soccer during my youth. And I really didn't understand why my two sons had such a passion for Manchester United," said Chu (pictured far right with fellows of Singapore's tourist industry).

When Emirates "went big" on football sponsorships around 2002, Chu had a sudden learning curve. The airline linked with English Football League club Chelsea and S-League team Home United in Singapore's domestic competition. In 2004, Emirates snared EPL's Arsenal in a $280 million agreement, which included rights to the Emirates name for the club's new 60,000-capacity stadium. And in the 2006-2007 season, the Gunners will wear shirts with the 'Fly Emirates' logo etched on them.

Then there's Emirates' official partnering of the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. "It's the crown jewel of sports. It is the sport that can attract such a big crowd, and such a big TV audience all over the world. It engages people. This year's World Cup will attract over 28.8 billion viewers from more than 200 countries. That's about a billion viewers daily. And that's good for us,' Chu explained, adding, "Our involvement is good for our customers too. A lot of people who want to go to Germany can't get seats on Germany-bound flights.

"'Let's say they can eventually get there, but they can't find a hotel. Finally, when they can find a hotel, they can't find tickets. It's our aim to bring the game to our customers. All the countries in our network are selling the World Cup package. We transport them to the venue, provide them hotel rooms (which are in short supply) and top them off with free tickets to watch the games."

For Emirates, Chu's Singapore operations is an important gateway destination in the Asia Pacific region, with 42 flights weekly to Dubai (which offers connections to 80 destinations), seven flights a week each to Brisbane and Melbourne, and four times weekly to Jakarta. Chu's office is also part of the Emirates Skycargo route network, in addition to the cargo services it operates on its passenger flights.

New Paper asked Chu if his busy operation will be impaired or even compromised during the World Cup months. "I don't really mind if my entire Singapore office suffers from exhaustion after getting up in the middle of the night to watch the matches ... but I will leave it to each individual to see how far they could go. I want everyone to have a good time without compromising their health or our service levels," he replied.

See also: Another European club secures Asian sponsorship (7 Mar) and Emirates outlines its sports sponsorship vision (13 Feb) and Arsenal is England PL's "fastest growing brand" (8 Aug 05)