MLS announces Etihad Airways as official airline partner

Etihad Airways - MLS


No stranger to the soccer world, Etihad Airways has entered a partnership with Major League Soccer.

MLS and Etihad Airways announced Tuesday that they have agreed to a multiyear partnership that sees the national airline of the United Arab Emirates become the official airline partner of MLS in the United States.

The agreements marks the first multiyear sports partnership in the U.S. for Eithad Airways, which is based in Abu Dhabi. It also means the airline company and MLS will work together on a number of initiatives, including community programs and promotions for flights for MLS fans.

“We are excited to welcome Etihad Airways as the official airline partner of Major League Soccer in the United States and are proud to be the first major sports association in the U.S. for such a prestigious global company,” said MLS commissioner Don Garber in a statement. “On behalf of our clubs, our players and our millions of fans, we welcome Etihad Airways to the MLS family and look forward to working with them to help grow their business in this region.”

As part of the deal, the Etihad Airways logo and its messages will be displayed on the LED pitch-side advertising boards during nationally-televised MLS games as well as across other platforms.

“Etihad Airways has a growing portfolio of sports properties that cover the globe and we’re delighted to now add Major League Soccer, a leading international sports brand, to this group,” said president and chief executive officer of Etihad Airways James Hogan (pictured above). “The MLS partnership will enable Etihad Airways to continue to build its brand in the United States, a key market for us, and offers an ideal platform to interact with the millions of sports fans and communities across the country and showcase the airline and services.”

Etihad Airways has long been versed in soccer across the globe. In addition to MLS, the airline company is the current corporate sponsor emblazoned on the front of Manchester City’s jerseys and also has naming rights to stadiums in Melbourne and Manchester.


What do you think of this development? Happy to see MLS become Etihad Airways’ first multiyear sports partnership in the United States?

Share your thoughts below.

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64 Responses to MLS announces Etihad Airways as official airline partner

  1. Increase0 says:

    Hmmmm, petro dollars. So tasty. So fresh.

  2. Reboot says:

    So… the NYCFC stadium to be dubbed “the Etihad III?”

    • slowleftarm says:

      No I believe it’s going to be called “Yankee Stadium” for the forseeable future.

  3. Josh D says:

    It’s about time. Traveling fans is what makes soccer so big and games so passionate. Fergie himself pointed to the distance fans have to travel as the reason the league won’t grow as big as the EPL.

    As a DC fan, I’d happily go to more away games if there were promotional airline tickets. Buy two MLS tickets, get your flight 10% off.

    To travel as a fan now is to make the event act as a vacation, otherwise you can’t justify the ticket price. And more traveling fans will make stadium atmospheres all the better.

    • @MLS_Biblical says:

      Exactly. +1 for ur comment. This is the first thing that came to mind when I read the article, Flying to Portland is not cheap from NJ and I would love to visit Portland Timbers vs RBNY and Seattle vs RBNY

      • Sean357 says:

        Except as a foreign airline Etihad can’t fly domestic flights between U.S. destinations under cabotage rules.

        • Jack Del says:

          Easily fixed by creating a subsidiary, which meets the proper legal requirements for ‘domestic’ ownership.

          • MVsoccerDad says:

            At least 75% of a US airline must be owned by US citizens or an entity that is controlled by US citizens.

            • Jack Del says:

              Which is incredibly simple.

              Etihad Americas – Board of Dir. and CEO are American citizens, done.

              See: Virgin Atlantic (UK) to Virgin America (US subsidy).

          • Dane96 says:

            Eithad Airways has an open affiliation membership with One World Alliance. You can get miles deals by flying American and Jet Blue in the U.S.

        • JayAre says:

          They’ll just pull the Virgin Atlantic move and make something similar to Virgin America thats not even a significant road block.

          • Sean357 says:

            If it was so easy why has no one else done it? Has anyone ever flown Virgin America? I certainly haven’t.

            • nycS says:

              Virgin America? One of the best airlines in the US, period. It’s either them or JetBlue.

            • Dane96 says:

              You’re missing out. Unreal air service in the U.S. It’s like you are flying international. Free booze, great planes, great seats, etc.

              • Dane96 says:

                Sorry nycS…missed your post. nycS is by far correct! I wish all U.S. flights were like Virgin America.

              • Sean357 says:

                Unfortunately Virgin America doesn’t fly to Houston where I live. If I have a chance I look forward to giving them a try. My Quarrel is with people who think setting up a US airline is easy, beyond the ownership thing – setting up a hub – landing slots, etc. Virgin America shows the difficulty, 23 destinations, slowing growth, not really making money. I do hope they are successful as I intensely dislike most domestic carriers.

              • Jack Del says:

                I think when we say easy, we mean easy for a multi-billion dollar conglomerate.

              • argh says:

                is it expensive? I like to fly cheap

              • Sean357 says:

                The US air market is already worth hundreds of billions of dollars, all the companies that play it in are multi-billion dollar companies. If Etihad wants to come in a subsidize my flights while losing money more power to them, but they’ve given no indication they do and it will not happen overnight even if they want to.

    • AcidBurn says:

      Well enjoy that 10% discount on flights from Chicago, New York, or DC to the Middle East.

      Isn’t it strange that you can’t use the official MLS airline partner to actually get from one MLS game to another?

      • RK says:

        $tupid of them. Utterly useless except for money for MLS.

      • CSD says:

        You can it is just not very efficient to go via the Middle East between MLS venues. If you wish you can take a 30 hour flight from DC to New York via Abu Dhabi.

    • MVsoccerDad says:

      That idea sounds great! – But there’s a problem…

      Etihad flies to exactly 3 destinations in the United States – Chicago, New York, & Washington DC. They codeshare with American Airlines, but AA sets the prices and promotions for those tickets, not Etihad. Being the “official airline” of anything only means you were the airline willing to pay the most money to have the exposure and advertising at the league’s events. The fans/consumers will get nothing out of this deal and I highly doubt Etihad does, either, when its all said and done. MLS, on the other hand, is laughing all the way to the bank with Etihad’s check.

      • JayAre says:

        Great point, what I don’t understand is how a league that wants to grown in attendance does’t have a way for fans to get to games.A common DC & Philly game is a hassle

    • slowleftarm says:

      I don’t see how this has any impact on flights for fans. Did they say they’re going to offer some kind of deal? Seems like just a straightforward sponsorship to me, which is great for MLS, but doesn’t mean cheap flights to away games.

    • The Imperative Voice says:

      The way to up the numbers is for the teams themselves to organize the road trips. 10% off a market priced airline ticket is not going to move the meter much. Nor is an international airline going to make a dent on domestic trips.

      But if the team organizes busses and tickets and hotels if the trip is long enough, that might work, if costs are kept down. But the idea of an international airline as making domestic road trips cheaper and more prolific……meh….it’s a signboard for games. Nothing more.

    • The Imperative Voice says:

      Swansea on coastal Wales to Hull in the northeast of England is 290 miles, maybe 1.5 times the distance from Houston to Dallas. There is widely available mass transit and organized busses and failing that the trips can be driven.

  4. Jack Del says:


    The Man City ownership stake is already paying major dividends. I remember how shocked I was the first time I saw the travel deals European fans are allowed thanks to partnerships like this. Blew me away. For a hundred euros you could get a round trip with tickets to a club match in other countries.

  5. orgami says:

    why not US AIRLINES or Delta or SouthWEST?

    or heck why not AirItalia?

    • Jack Del says:

      You’re welcome to ask US Airlines and Delta and Southwest why they haven’t sought a partnership in the history of the league.

      Because if they had, it would exist.

    • froboy says:

      Because they didn’t pony up the cash

  6. orgami says:

    Is ETIHAD all about the $$$

    why haven’t they fixed the Middle East? Offered billions to educate, socialize the conservative elements. Help the environment. The reason why some poor countries stay poor despite massive amounts of resources is because the select few who control it all keep all the money. There are huge brain drains from these lands. they don’t have sufficient infrastructure or a future for the next generation. why doesn’t ETIHAD help instead of buying football clubs with no heart?

    • Kosh says:

      All righteous and worthy points that have jack squat to do with this business decision. This is a business. That was a business agreement that, even with all the evident disadvanantages and roadblocks stated above, was made with the pure intent to gain something in return – and trust me the minds behind this will gain something from this.

      All the points you make apply to any big business/corporate entity in EVERY country in the world…oh and yes, it is about the $$$.

    • Jack Del says:

      Etihad is an airline. They have little to do with politics.

      The UAE being its flag-bearing nation, gives billions of dollars in development to war-torn parts of Africa and the Middle East. Billions.

      The UAE is also one of the world’s largest oil exporters–but more important they are one of the most liberal and stable Middle Eastern countries. They have open access for investment and a strong politically stable legal system for investment funds.

      They play a major role in OPEC and help keep gas prices down.

      World isn’t black and white.

      • Dane96 says:

        Not entirely correct. While it has a board, Eithad is owned by a leading member of the UAE ruling family. It was founded by Royal Decree as the official state airline of the UAE.

        • Jack Del says:

          No doubt it has its foundations there. The company itself has done well to operate independently. Sheik Al Nahyan has done well to maintain the business integrity and building a credible separation between the national and corporate interests.

      • slowleftarm says:

        I think your view of the UAE might be a bit too cheery.

        • Jack Del says:

          Not so much.

          I’ve been to Abu Dhabi and Dubai. I’ve seen what happens to minority and lower caste factions of people.

          Whether it’s fair or not, their capital and energy interests make them a power player, and the royal family itself does decent work.

      • Dane96 says:

        Really– explain that in the concept of “Hereditary” leadership. The governing families of each Emirate “select” the UAE President. It is no democracy. It’s more akin to the “five families” of mafia-leadership.

        However, they do keep the people happy with basic needs. And yes, they are probably one of the most “pro-business” governments in the region.

        The only reason they have any concept of the “civil law” (the Sharia Law is what rules the country for the most part) was to appeal to U.K. businesses in the late 70’s and early 80’s. The still practice doctrinal (read: Religious), punitive punishment and blood money law. Homosexuality is outlawed however, a man can legally beat his wife.

        Really progressive.

        • Dane96 says:

          My last comment was to Jack. I echo Slowfarm’s sentiment. And Jack, how could they keep the national and businnes interests separate– operational money primarily comes from the UAE coffers.

          Look…if you want to do business with an Arab Middle Eastern country, the UAE is your safest bet. But in no way should it be confused as “progressive” or “democratic”. The business interests are the Emirates interest; they are the dog wagging the business tail.

          My company works with the UAE on many deals both public and private (we are German based).

        • Jack Del says:

          I said nothing of the domestic actions.

          Much like the ruling family and government in Saudi Arabia, they are very progressive and welcome western technology and investment.

          They also have a highly uneducated and strongly religious public they must maintain, and in some aspects, let go. Domestic politics are fiercely harsh and unwavering in some social aspects.

          That’s life. I’m not casting acceptance, merely acknowledgement of reality.



    The Seven Sisters.
    I watched a series from Al Jazeera on them. They have totally screwed up the Middle East not to mention the CIA and US/BRITISH/FRENCH policymakers.

    it’s all crap. I thought we were the good guys. That we were “democratic” but all we want is to hoarde the resources. And we feel we have the right to preach to China and India when our very allies have repressive human rights records

    • Sean357 says:

      The seven sisters don’t exist anymore and all the oil in the middle east was nationalized a long time ago.

  8. Northzax says:

    So what does this mean for the timbers’ jersey deal? Or did eithad but Alaska when no one was paying attention?

  9. if you asking says:

    I say death to oil

    Learn to walk or ride a bike

    • Darwin says:

      agreed. Major industry businesses should build housing for their employees so they don’t need to commute….and invest in the rail lines to and from those places.

  10. John says:

    Love that the MLS is taking off! NYFC, Beckham’s new club, and with this world cup its on the up and up. But then you have a few teams who are not invested. Great article out of Boston describing the situation perfectly in New England: link to

  11. newjersey says:

    If it’s anything like the partnership the Cosmos have with Emirates Airlines, it’ll be good for all involved!

  12. Darwin says:

    This is an excellent move by MLS! However, now hand-egg fans have another bashing point…they’ll call soccer fans terrorists (they already do).