The NBA held its first in-season tournament this year, featuring special edition courts, “city”-themed uniforms and the semifinals and final staged in Las Vegas. While there could be format tweaks, the tournament logo will feature Emirates, as will in-arena signage during the semifinals and final, the league said in a news release.
As part of the deal, beginning with the All-Star Game on Feb. 18, all NBA referees will wear a uniform patch featuring the Emirates logo, a first for the league. WNBA and G League referees will wear a similar patch beginning next season. The Emirates branding also will be featured on nationally televised games through virtual signage and on top of the backboards.
The state-owned airline has been active in the sports space since its founding nearly 40 years ago. It sponsors European soccer clubs AC Milan, Real Madrid and Arsenal, among others, as well as three major tennis championships — the U.S. Open, the French Open and the Australian Open — and several golf, rugby, cricket and horse racing events.
“The NBA is a valuable addition to our sponsorship portfolio as it allows us to connect with a vast global fanbase, including in the U.S., where the game is an integral part of the country’s sport culture,” Sheik Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum, chairman of the Emirates Group, said in a statement.
A recent surge of investment from Middle Eastern countries, companies and sovereign wealth funds has provided an influx of money bolstering teams and leagues in several sports, including soccer, golf and tennis. But it also has drawn scrutiny and sparked debate over sportswashing, the attempt to use sports to deflect from human rights abuses.
The NBA has been trying to make inroads in the Middle East and North Africa. In addition to staging four preseason games over the past two years, the NBA opened a store on Yas Island and is helping run specialized basketball schools in Dubai. The NBA has been televised in the UAE for more than 30 years, and the league said its social media accounts have more than 6.2 million followers from the Middle East.
The NBA also was the first major U.S.-based sports league to amend its rules to allow investment by sovereign wealth funds. Last year, the Qatar Investment Authority bought a 5 percent stake in Washington-based Monumental Sports, whose holdings include the NBA’s Wizards, the NHL’s Capitals and the WNBA’s Mystics.