Thursday, 25 June 2009

AirAsia taken to task over NFL deal


SPONSORED: Oakland Raiders team players posted on an aircraft

CHARITY, they say, begins at home. This, apparently does not apply to Malaysia's low budget carrier AirAsia. While its support for local sports has been largely in the form of discounted flights, the carrier is about to splash out millions in cash to an American football team in a major deal to be announced tomorrow.

Baffling is why AirAsia is even pursuing this deal - it doesn't even fly to the US and yet, is doling out cash for a sport with hardly a following in Malaysia.

Equally puzzling is how the no frills airline, which had its early success from strong Malaysian support to see a local airline make a global name, can afford to splash extravagant amounts when it owes Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) RM65 million in airport tax.

Yesterday, AirAsia even admitted that it was withholding the payment unless MAHB lowered the airport charges! (See accompanying story)

Meanwhile, Malaysian sports figures said AirAsia could do a lot more to support local sports rather than be generous with foreign sponsorships.

Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) secretary-general Datuk Sieh Kok Chi said the carrier's support has been quite minimal so far. "At the moment, all we get are minimal rates for flights domestically and within South East Asia. There is no cash funding involved.

"But something is better than nothing. They have helped us, I don't want to be ungrateful by saying that they have not helped at all. However, I'm disappointed as I feel that they can offer much more. But we got to live with what we have."

Sieh continued by saying that OCM does not have constraints in finding sponsors, adding that AirAsia could definitely afford to be more generous.

While details are still sketchy on the National Football League (NFL) deal with the Oakland Raiders, the sponsorship is likely to be worth at least RM1 million. At the sponsorship announcement by AirAsia group chief executive officer Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes and Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis, the airline will also unveil the Oakland Raiders livery on AirAsia's aircraft.

The event is expected to be attended by Oakland Raiders legend Ted Hendricks and famed Raiderettes (official cheerleaders of the Oakland Raiders) April Dizon, Angel McCoy and Amanda Voecks.

Contacted yesterday, Fernandes declined to say much about the deal.

"There will be a Press conference on Friday (tomorrow) and it will not be fair to others if I respond (to your questions). Everything will be revealed on that day," said Fernandes, who turned AirAsia into Asia's No 1 low budget carrier. AirAsia has expanded its routes outside Asia to include Australia and London. It had announced in March that it was looking at the US and Middle East sectors as well.

And one way the carrier has made headway in globalising its brand name is by involving itself in sports sponsorships - mainly overseas.

Among the millions AirAsia has pumped for international presence includes a reportedly S$1million (RM2.3m) sponsorship for a basketball team in Singapore called Singapore Slingers, which takes part in the National Basketball League.

While the value of its other major sponsorship deals were not revealed, the endorsement of professional referees in the English Premier League, the AT&T Williams team in Formula One, and now with Oakland Raiders, run into millions.

To get an idea of just how much money is being splurged, AirAsia had earlier this year flirted with the idea of being the jersey sponsors for Manchester United - in a deal which would have cost a staggering US$100m (RM340m).

Even a football team in Thailand received three million bahts (RM300,000) in the form of travel, a privilege the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) enjoys with the carrier.

AirAsia was also the main sponsors for the Asia Cup hockey tourney in Kuantan, for which it reportedly provided RM500,000


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