The English Premier League's increasing popularity among Russians received another boost this month with the announcement that the national airline, Aeroflot, has become the official carrier for Manchester United.
The five-year deal was sealed on July 8 with a lavish launch ceremony
attended by players from the famous English club and senior Aeroflot officials.
The Russian company's CEO, Vitaly Savaliyev, was effusive in his enthusiasm for the new partnership, saying the arrangement was in keeping with Aeroflot's "global outlook."
He added that the airline and the Manchester soccer giant have "shared values including teamwork, a focus on quality, pride in our heritage, and an innovative and forward-looking attitude."
It's easy to see how the alliance can complement Aeroflot's increasingly international focus. The carrier now claims to serve over 1,000 destinations in 178 countries and Manchester United's huge brand will undoubtedly help it raise its profile even further.
As part of the deal, Aeroflot will be featured in the club's marketing channels. This will include sideline advertising at Old Trafford Stadium as well as a presence on the team's website and official Facebook page (which currently has more than 34 million followers).
The company will also benefit from the exposure United will receive as the reigning champions of the English Premier League, which has a huge global audience, joining other airlines who have tapped into the competition's popularity, such as the Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways, which is the main sponsor of United's local rivals, Manchester City, and Dubai's Emirates airline, which has a high-profile partnership deal with Arsenal.
In return, according to Aeroflot's website
, Manchester United will receive "strategic advice on travel arrangements for the team and officials." Moreover, Aeroflot will provide the club with "charter services whenever suitable on its newest long-haul Airbus and Boeing airplanes" and a Manchester United-branded plane will also be added to the airline's fleet.
Although no financial details were released, a club source told Reuters
that the new arrangement gave the "Red Devils" better terms than they had with their previous carrier, Turkish Airlines.
The deal will also boost United's profile in Russia, which it sees as a growing market and where it already reportedly has 18 million fans.
The competition has become increasingly popular among Russians, thanks in part to the exposure it has received in the country since oil tycoon Roman Abramovich took over the Chelsea Football Club and much-publicized transfer deals that brought Russian internationals such as Andrei Arshavin
and Yury Zhirkov
Given that at least part of the legendary aura surrounding Manchester United among soccer fans can be attributed to the manner in which the team bounced back from being devastated by a Munich air disaster
in 1958 to emerge triumphant as champions of Europe just 10 years later, the choice of Aeroflot as the club's partner airline might strike some as odd.
Although the state-controlled carrier was the first Russian airline to be included in the International Air Transport Association's Operational Safety Audit Registry
, it has often been criticized for its safety record and has suffered 127 crashes in the 90 years it has been in existence.
Safety issues were also raised earlier this year when a leaked internal report highlighted concerns surrounding the Russian-made Superjets
that comprise part of its fleet.
PHOTO GALLERY: Aeroflot through the years
-- Coilin O'Connor