Soccer Bridges Distance Between Manchester City and Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
While it's natural for Manchester City fans to celebrate their team's title run in the English Premier League (EPL), one many wonder why Abu Dhabi is joining the party despite being thousands of miles away.
The reason? One of United Arab Emirates' respected leaders, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, owns the team.
Another reason is that Manchester City's stadium is named after Etihad Airways, an Abu Dhabi-based airline.
Manchester City recently bagged the EPL title after a dramatic 3-2 win over Queens Park Rangers in a game watched by an estimated global audience of 4.7 billion.
The title-clinching goal was scored by Sergio Aguero, who signed a record $62 million contract with the team, in the dying seconds of the game.
"For a lot of the people here, they say that they didn't even follow the Premier League until Manchester City was bought by the Abu Dhabi group," CNN reporter Leone Lakhani said. "So you can imagine they've been extremely happy with the results the entire year.
Sheikh Mansour coughed out $320 million to buy the English Premier League club in 2008 and invested an additional $600 million on players like Aguero, Yaya Toure and Carlos Tevez.
The expensive moves paid off as Manchester City finally won its first EPL title in 44 years and beat rival Manchester United to the title on goal difference.
For Etihad Airways, coughing out more than $600 million for stadium naming rights and shirt sponsorship over 10 years was worth it.
"When you win national and international titles, the exposure to a very, very relevant target audience for us couldn't be better," Peter Baumgartner, chief commercial officer of the airline, told CNN.
Aside from Abu Dhabi, other Middle East countries are banking on football for media and publicity mileage.
Dubai airline Emirates has a high-profile stadium and shirt sponsorship deal with Arsenal, and the Dubai-based Royal Emirates Group took over La Liga club Getafe last year.
Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nassar Al-Thani, a member of the Qatari royal family, bought out Malaga in 2010 when the modest club had never finished higher than seventh in the top flight.
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