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Emirates airline signs Formula One sponsorship deal

By Praveen Menon

DUBAI (Reuters) - Emirates airline sealed a five-year branding deal with Formula One motor racing on Tuesday as it tries to outdo regional rivals for global prominence.

Emirates, owned by the government of Dubai, has to now focused on soccer, sealing shirt sponsorship deals with Italy's AC Milan, French club Paris St Germain and Arsenal football club, whose north London stadium is named after the airline.

Its name will now appear on Formula One circuit bridges, around race course grounds and in team paddocks, starting with the Malaysian Grand Prix in March.

Emirates Chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum announced the agreement alongside Formula One commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone at a ceremony in Dubai and said the deal had an annual value of more than $10 million.

"Emirates will become the global partner with Formula One beginning in 2013," Sheikh Ahmed said. "We are looking at sponsorship of more sports in the future if we feel this will promote Dubai and promote Emirates."

Ecclestone said it would now be "the natural thing to do" for Emirates to take their Formula One involvement a step further and launch a motor racing team.

Neighboring and rival emirate Abu Dhabi hosts a November Grand Prix race, but its involvement in the glamorous sport was scaled back last year when a state-owned investment fund sold a 40 percent stake in the Mercedes Formula One team to Daimler , giving the German carmaker full control.

Sheikh Ahmed, the uncle of the ruler of Dubai, said the airline's total sports sponsorship now stood at 1 billion dirhams ($272.25 million) this year.

In November, Emirates agreed a new $239 million sponsorship deal with Arsenal that extends its shirt partnership with the north London club to the end of the 2018/2019 season. Arsenal's 60,000-seat home will also continue to be known as the Emirates Stadium until 2028.

The Dubai carrier is one of a number of Middle Eastern airlines to back major European soccer clubs. Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways sponsors English champions Manchester City, while Barcelona will have the Qatar Airways name on their shirts for next season after long eschewing corporate branding. ($1 = 3.6730 UAE dirhams)

(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Writing by Amran Abocar; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

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