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Three AirTran jets reflect NFL connection

By Maria Jose Subiria

msubiria@news-daily.com

On a cold, cloudy morning at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport recently, three Boeing 717 jets were parked behind the AirTran Airways hangar. Each airplane was painted in distinct NFL team livery -- that of the Atlanta Falcons, the Baltimore Ravens and the Indianapolis Colts.

The airplanes are known as "Falcons 1," "Ravens 1" and "Colts 1."

"People are very passionate about their sports team ... Every time 'Falcons 1' takes off from Atlanta, I get a call from someone saying how cool it was," said Christopher White, director of public relations for AirTran Airways.

AirTran is involved in a marketing partnership with all three NFL teams, and it was only the second time this year that all three of AirTran's NFL airplanes have been at the world's busiest airport at the same time, said White.

White said that because of the rarity of having all three team-logo planes in Atlanta at once, the official team mascots -- Freddie Falcon, Poe of the Baltimore Ravens and Blue of the Indianapolis Colts -- were invited to Atlanta's airport to shoot a marketing video.

The partnership between the Atlanta Falcons and AirTran began in August, while the airline's partnerships with the Colts and the Ravens have been active for several years, White said. This is the first year jets have been painted in the teams' colors, he said.

According to AirTran officials, "Colts 1" was unveiled on Nov. 10, "Ravens 1" debuted on Oct. 27 and "Falcons 1" was introduced on Oct. 13.

"When there was an opportunity to partner up with the Falcons, we jumped on it," White said.

According to White, the airplanes have caught the attention of many passengers and employees at Hartsfield-Jackson.

"The primary benefit, for AirTran, is that we are involved with beloved brands like the Falcons, Colts and Ravens," White said. "For the teams, it exposes new customers and fans to their brand."

White said the airplanes are part of AirTran's Boeing 717 fleet, which consists of a total of 86 jets. The airplanes bearing the team colors and logos of the Colts, Falcons and Ravens fly to every AirTran destination.

"People were just surprised," White said of the impact of the three airplanes on passengers. "It is a striking livery. You will definitely notice it, whether it is in the sky, or on the ground."

White said it cost AirTran approximately $160,000 to custom paint each airplane in the team colors and logos.

The airplanes are just like any other Boeing 717 jet AirTran owns, on the inside, he said.

According to White, the football teams do not use the airplanes to fly to games.

"The teams have their own deals with charter operations," he said.

According to V. Kumar, executive director of the Center for Excellence in Brand and Customer Management at the J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State University, companies and sports teams get involved in marketing partnerships as a way to advertise their brands, products and services to the public, both nationally and internationally.

Kumar said some people are emotionally attached to sports teams, such as the Atlanta Falcons, and that when companies associate their business with a popular, well-liked team, they may gain the trust and loyalty of customers through that association.

"The antecedent of loyalty is satisfaction," said Kumar. "To gain loyalty, a customer has to gain satisfaction."