Alaska Airlines fumbles the ball with latest Wilson promotion

A promotion launched by Alaska Airlines on the eve of the opening of the 2014 NFL season misses the mark rather dramatically.

From now through the end of the Seahawks’ 2014 NFL season – whether that’s another Super Bowl or sooner – Seattle-based Alaska (NYSE:ALK) will offer early boarding on flights leaving Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) to any passenger wearing a Russell Wilson Number 3 jersey.

When I saw the news release announcing this ill-conceived promotion, I almost plotzed! (It’s Yiddish; look it up.) “Seriously? Why?” I asked myself.

Winglet of 737 in Wilson livery
Photo by Alaska Airlines
OK, I know the answer: it’s a cross-promotion between the two entities. “Part of an exclusive multi-year partnership between Alaska Airlines and the Seahawk's star quarterback,” as the airline put it in the news release.

Alaska forged a relationship with Wilson in 2013, named him its CFO – Chief Football Officer – in December, and even painted a plane with his name and number.

But a promotion that grants favored status only to those passengers willing to wear Wilson's jersey is a bad move.

Football fans in the Pacific Northwest are still reveling in the February Super Bowl trouncing of the Denver Broncos and are collectively proud of the Seahawks. A promotion that is pure Wilson and favors his fans over the fans of other players could easily backfire.

I am not taking anything away from Wilson; he is a fine quarterback. However, while the Seahawks may not have been able to win the Super Bowl without him, neither did he win the Super Bowl alone.

Further, although the airline’s promotional relationship is with Wilson and not the Seahawks as a team, promoting a single player over others – or, more to the point, giving preferential treatment to the fans of one player over others – risks alienating fans of those other players including Marshawn Lynch and Richard Sherman.

The players themselves probably understand. Marshawn has his own deals with Skittles® and Vita Coco® Coconut Water. But being a fan isn’t about business and logic; it’s about passion and emotion. And those slighted fans who could be Alaska passengers could also decide to fly with the competition to show their displeasure.

The rich get richer…

The key to gaining early boarding is not just any Seahawks gear but specifically a Wilson jersey which, at, runs from $100 to $300 for an adult size. Sure, there are many fans who already have a Wilson jersey but, by offering early boarding only to those wearing that specific garment,  it makes it seem like the airline is not-so-subtly trying to further enrich the NFL, the Seahawks, and/or Wilson.

I find that offensive.

Wilson and the NFL are for-profit enterprises. Wilson is paid very well for his efforts, and I don't hear of NFL higher-ups waiting in line at the food bank, either.

Certainly, Wilson has used his celebrity status commendably through education programs including the Russell Wilson Passing Academy, which “provides inner city and underprivileged youths an opportunity to attend football camp with the star quarterback,” according to the airline. There are other examples, including an event that attracted more than 600 students from 21 high schools in Western Washington who heard from Wilson, and from employees of Alaska Airlines and sister airline Horizon Air about careers in aviation. But again, it's part of Wilson's deal with the airline.

What the airline should have done was craft a promotion that acknowledges the entire team and the fans of other players with something special to those in Wilson attire, like a complimentary cocktail. But that would cost money, while early boarding costs the airline nothing.

Alaska 737 on approach to SEA
Photo by Carl Dombek
Meanwhile, the airline is throwing a small bone to those Seahawks fans willing to travel to five select "away" games. Regardless of their player allegiance, fans headed to those games can score a 10 percent discount on airfare to the Sept. 14 game against the Chargers in San Diego (SDO), the Oct. 6 rivalry with the Redskins in Washington, D.C. (DCA or BWI), the Oct. 19 match-up against the Rams in St. Louis (STL), the Nov. 16 contest with the Chiefs in Kansas City (KCI), and the Dec. 7 game against the Eagles in Philadelphia (PHL, EWR or BWI).

Fans must fly from an Alaska Airlines city in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Alaska or British Columbia up to three days before, and return as long as two days after, those games. More details are available at

Be sure to display your team colors when you fly; just don’t expect them to get you much unless it’s a Wilson Number 3 jersey.

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