AirAsia links Malaysian junior football to Man Utd

Malaysia's privately-owned AirAsia airline will renew its sponsorship deal with English Premier League club Manchester United for a further season. The airline's chief executive officer, Tony Fernandes, declined to reveal the cost of the one-year deal but said it was within its annual RM60 million budget allocated for advertisements and promotions. Industry sources familiar with the deal, however, told AFP the contract could cost AirAsia some US$4.6 million to US$5.6 million.

AirAsia’s group deputy chief executive officer, Kamarudin Meranun, said there had been an influx of European tourists to Asia in the past year, most of whom are British. “A lot of them used to go to Spain, but are now coming to Asia after seeing AirAsia advertisements at Old Trafford,” he said. Fernandes said the airline also hoped to leverage on Manchester United’s massive fan base in Asia. “As the official low fare airline for Manchester United, AirAsia hopes to create opportunities and exciting avenues to reach out and connect with the team’s loyal fan base in Asia,” he said.

The airline marked the first year of its sponsorship by bringing its 'Red Devil Airbus' to Manchester Airport for the English public to view. A joy ride for Man United fans took place on 8 May through a special tie-in program with Century Radio FM. Man United is the first football club in the world to be honored with an aircraft livery. The 180 seater Airbus A320 bears the club’s crest and is painted in the club’s colors and features personalities such as Sir Alex Ferguson, Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Rio Ferdinand, Ji Sung Park and Ruud Van Nistelrooy.

In addition to branding opportunities, AirAsia has also helped link Man United to Malaysia's youth and sports development program. Working closely with the Football Association of Malaysia as its official airline partner, AirAsia together with Man United is hosting a training program for the Malaysian National U20 team at United’s training grounds at Carrington. This training program culminated with a friendly match against the Manchester United Academy team on 10 May.

AirAsia has also organised a friendly match with a Man United Select Team, featuring former players and some Academy players against a team of amateur footballers from Malaysia who make up a talent developmental program to discover untapped football talents in the country. AirAsia will round off its involvement with football development when it sponsors the Malaysian U14 team for the Manchester United Premier Cup to be held in Bangkok from 19-21 May.

AirAsia was launched as a budget carrier in December 2001 with just two aircraft. It offers more than 100 domestic and international flights to Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines.