Virgin Australia has extended its agreement to be the official airline partner of the AFL until 2025.
The deal, which also includes the AFLW women’s league, means the airline will fly 32 teams and staff to interstate matches.
It comes six months after Qantas ended its 30-year partnership with the Wallabies, arguing it would be wrong to pay for sponsorship while many of its staff were stood down.
Virgin Australia chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka said the deal shows both partners have come out the other end of a challenging 12 months.
“The partnership enables Virgin Australia to fly the AFL and AFLW’s 32 teams and their fans across the country, which helps get Virgin Australia people back to work, while contributing to rebuilding market demand for air travel, and the nation’s broader tourism recovery,” Hrdlicka said.
“Flying the league means that we’ll have approximately 16,000 seats booked by the clubs each season which means more flying hours for our people and more travel opportunities for fans keen to watch their team play interstate.”
The agreement also gives Virgin access to “business development opportunities” from the AFL’s other partners and opportunities to fly ad hoc charter services. Separately, Virgin has extended its partnerships with Carlton Football Club until 2024 and the Gold Coast Suns until 2023.
To celebrate the announcement, Virgin recruited Carlton and Richmond captain’s Sam Docherty and Trent Cotchin, alongside AFLW players Izzy Huntington (Western Bulldogs) and Kaitlyn Ashmore (North Melbourne Kangaroos) to check-in fans at Melbourne Airport on Monday morning.
Virgin’s partnership with the AFL goes back to 2011, and it estimates players and staff have travelled on more than 4,000 flights carrying 2,600 tonnes in club cargo.
In September, Qantas blamed the cost of COVID-19 for its decision to end its sponsorship of Australia’s rugby union national team, thought to be worth $5 million per year.
Chief customer officer Stephanie Tully said, “While we’re dealing with this crisis and its aftermath, the cash cost of our sponsorships has to be zero.”
Qantas first supported the team as the “official airline” of Rugby Australia in 1990, and in 2004 shifted to become the headline sponsor. The collaboration eventually covered five Rugby World Cup tournaments and two British and Irish Lions tours.
“In an environment where thousands of our people have lost jobs and thousands more are stood down while they wait for flying to restart, we can’t maintain these sponsorships in the way we have in the past,” said Tully.
“Qantas has had a very long association with Rugby Australia and the Wallabies, and we’ve stuck with each other during difficult times. Unfortunately, this pandemic has been the undoing. Like all Australians, we’ll continue to cheer them on from the sidelines.”