This May Be the Pettiest Thing Delta Has Ever Done

The Fox Theater in Atlanta is a storied institution, and Delta has supported it for over 20 years — until now. The non-profit theater, which rents out space for private functions, allowed Qatar Airways to rent space — and didn’t call to ask Delta’s permission first.

Originally planned as the headquarters for the Shriners organization, movie mogul William Fox leased the building and it opened it as the Fox Theater two months after the stock market crash of 1929. In the 1940s it was the only theater in Atlanta serving both white and African American patrons (although they were kept segregated inside). Prince gave his final performance here, a week before his death in April.

The theater was placed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of an effort to stop Southern Bell’s 1974 plan to tear it down to use the land as a parking lot (for real). The theater was eventually restored to its original form, with additions from its original plan that were cut due to financial constraints in 1929 added on.

Stock photo copyright: f11photo

The non-profit theater hosts cultural events, films, and ballet. And its Egyptian Ballroom and Grand Salon are rented out for private functions. Qatar rented the space for a concert with J.Lo and so Delta is pulling its support.

Delta Air Lines will not renew its sponsorship of Atlanta’s Fox Theatre, due to a foreign rival airline’s event Tuesday night at the venue featuring a private concert by Jennifer Lopez.

It’s not JLo that prompted the move by Delta. The issue is that the event Tuesday night is hosted by Delta nemesis Qatar Airways.

…Delta, a sponsor of the Fox for more than 20 years, said it will not renew its sponsorship of the storied Atlanta theater after their contract expires May 31, 2017.

Copyright: gregorylee

Delta’s chief legal officer Peter Carter says the reason is Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said he’s launching Atlanta service “to rub salt in the wounds of Delta,”

So we were very surprised and disappointed when we learned that the Fox Theatre — an organization that we’ve supported for years, an organization that has called us its official airline — we were shocked and surprised when we learned that they were hosting the coming out party for Qatar.

To be clear, this non-profit theater rents out its space for private functions. And Qatar rented the space. So Delta is pulling its support of the Atlanta landmark after 20 years — because they felt Qatar’s CEO was rude to them after Delta’s then-CEO last year blamed their rival airline for 9/11.

Copyright: idealphotographer

Qatar of course is merely a company renting function space at the venue. So just how petty is Delta being about this? They’re miffed because the non-profit they support didn’t call them in advance about the group that would be renting space in the theater for an event.

We felt that, you know, a real friend would have contacted us and had a conversation with us, and so we thought it was time for us to re-evaluate that relationship. And so we won’t be supporting the Fox going forward,” Carter said. “We valued the relationship, which is why we were disappointed that we didn’t get a phone call, because I think a phone call would have probably prevented the whole thing.

My first thought was, “seriously, are these people 12 years old?” Apparently I’m not the only one. Comments over at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution include,

Mr. Carter, please tell me that you are over 13. This makes you sound like a spoiled brat on a playground in a “I’m taking my ball and going home” moment.

Okay, someone check on the Delta execs. Toddlers have taken them hostage and are running the company.

Just because Delta execs are fixated on the Qatar, doesn’t mean the rest of us are. Chances are no one on the events staff at the Fox even thought about this as an issue. ..The Fox should have let Delta know because… Do they let them know about every private event?

(HT: Rene’s Points)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. There are no words. Just wow!

    They might have been looking to dump them as a sponsor anyway and this gave them some “cover”?

  2. Brett probably won’t do it because he likes to keep the award special but I will bestow Delta with a Cranky Jackass Award in absentia…

  3. I don’t think this is petty at all. If Delta thinks it has reason against the Gulf carriers then why not put up this fight? Delta is merely showing that this fight has now affected the hometown. Delta’s not going anywhere and neither is the Fox Theater (I used to live a few blocks from the Fox). Call it petty, call it dumb, call it whatever you want. I’ll call it a failure on some low level scheduling employee at the Fox to not even think about booking a sponsor’s rival.

  4. I guess deltas going to cancel plans to add economy comfort seats for a fee to the Fox theater

  5. Although I am a loyal flyer on American and do not subscribe to Delta’s drive to redefine the value of mileage programs, on this issue, I have to agree with Delta. Are there no newspapers or TV news in its HQ city of ATL that have not repeatedly informed the citizens of Qatar’s deliberate, flippant attitude towards Delta; how this personalized attack financed by a foreign government threatens American jobs, not just revenues for Delta?

    When Delta and Eastern competed head-to-head, it was honest competition, not subsidized by a foreign power, intolerant of labor unions. Other than Boeing and the Export-Import Bank, nobody else benefits. We should be proud and support Delta standing up for our interpretation of an open, competitive marketplace.

  6. Wow – I didn’t realize Delta had final sign-off on what private events can be held at the space of a non-profit theater. Boo freaking Hoo Delta, get over it…

    I hope Qatar drops 20 million to sponsor the place for the next 20 years.

  7. @M.E. SINGER – Delta expects to use $9 billion in ‘net operating loss carryforwards’ this year to avoid taxes. During bankruptcy they offloaded pension obligations on the federal government, but they got to keep tax loss carry forwards so even when they make multibillion dollar profits they don’t pay tax on much of it. Who exactly do you think is subsidized? Or the hundreds of millions they got from Pennsylvania for their refinery, whose fuel is subsidized? Or the fuel tax exemptions they got for years from Georgia?

    And look, compete head-on, and also sponsor who you wish. But to take it out on the Fox Theater, pulling your sponsorship after 20 years over year? Yeah, that’s darned petty.

    what about the jobs in USA that qatar will create by flying from the US via DOHA that delta will never even consider flying to?

  9. Delta has likely invested/donated a SIGNIFICANT amount of money to the Fox Theater over the years. I imagine the feel disrespected…and when you disrespect someone, sometimes they might quit giving you money.

    I’m not sure what the problem is here.

  10. They can go lower. Delta could de-hub Atlanta in response to Atlanta airport allowing Qatar to fly there. Or maybe blacklist all passengers that fly on Qatar.

  11. I think Delta is perfectly fine with this move. When non-profits come calling with their hand out you’re crazy if you don’t think sponsors and donors don’t expect you to have their back especially on what be the most high-profile fight of any company currently in Atlanta. Delta is a huge employer and gives a lot of money away in Atlanta. Fox Theatre should have known better. This is completely on the Fox. They need to support Delta here and should have given them a call before accepting the booking.

  12. And they would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for the brave little boys and girls at Boarding Area

  13. Watch out, Delta may cancel your frequent flyer account for writing this article. Unless they are too busy investigating employees for termination who may have flown competing airlines on vacation.

  14. Companies do retaliation stuff all the time. This is nothing new. My own company has done it. They have even done it to TV networks. So is it childish? Hardly. This is business in the big leagues. Sorry, Gary this is click bait. Plenty of companies have done and still do this kind of stuff all the time. Apple is one of the biggest hard ball players in American business. And that is just one example.

  15. The problem here is that Gary is on a quixotic and irrational crusade to advocate on behalf of the subsidized Middle Eastern airlines.

    The event in question at the Fox is the launch party for Qatar’s new Atlanta service. As admitted by Qatar, the route was specifically selected to insult Delta (because Qatar isn’t in business to actually make money, they can choose routes for truly petty reasons like this).

    Since Delta is a major sponsor of the Fox (their “official airline” no less), management of the Fox should have told Qatar to hold their promotional event elsewhere. It would be like if Delta sponsored a major league baseball team and that team then held “Qatar Airways T-Shirt Night.” No logical person would suggest it would then be inappropriate for Delta to cancel it’s sponsorship. This situation is almost exactly the same thing.

  16. @iahphx
    You are right in almost all your points except the fact that delta is more subsidized than qatar
    Everythibg else is debatable, but above is not

  17. Nice, Delta is basically punishing the entire local community because of their stupid feud with Qatar Airlines. This is penny wise and pound foolish and is so typical of Delta’s pathetic management. They operate by trying to bully competitors instead of competing honestly and fairly by offering a superior product.

  18. A truly pathetic, yet typical move, on delta’s part. Wen it was a sponsor of the Fox, delta no doubted touted its sponsorship as being for noble, altruistic reasons to support the mission of the non-profit theater and its contributions to the community. The theater’s mission and benefit to the community were unaffected by renting it for an event sponsored by a company delta does not like. The real reason for delta’s sponsorship now appears to be to ensure that delta controls who uses theater and to require the Fox to accept blind loyalty to delta’s interests.

    Delta had a legal agreement covering its sponsorship of the Fox. Renting to Qatar did not violate that agreement. If delta wanted control over or a heads up on competitors renting the venue, Chief Legal Officer Carter should have put that in the agreement. Now that the Fox knows delta will not renew its sponsorship, I hope the Fox takes every opportunity during the remaining 12 months of that agreement to rent to Oatar, Emirates and Ethiad if possible.

  19. @iahphx your analogy doesn’t work, delta sponsorships would give them category exclusivity so that no other airline could be a sponsor. qatar airways wasn’t sponsoring the theater. they rented space for an event. the better analogy would be if delta sponsored a stadium and qatar airways rented a box for one night at a game and hosted people there.

  20. I agree that Delta’s dropping the Fox Theater sponsorship and especially Carter’s comments make the airline appear petty. If anything, Delta should have allowed the current sponsorship to run its course and then quietly declined to renew next year.

    At the same time, I can understand their position. When a business sponsors a person or organization, there’s a reasonable expectation that the sponsored party not publicly consort with the business’ competition. When TAG Heuer sponsors Tom Brady, he shouldn’t be seen wearing a Rolex in public. In the Fox Theater’s case, they didn’t host just any Qatar event. They hosted the launch party for QR’s DOH-ATL route. If I were Delta, I’d be pissed, too. I’d just keep quiet about it, though, because there’s no way to come out looking good when the media already has it out for your industry.

  21. When you sign a sponsorship contract, you include all the do’s and don’ts. Apparently the contract did not mention this as a don’t. So, Delta screwed up by not putting in the contract that other airline events must be vetted in advance. If you can’t be petty, what’s left?

  22. Delta has banned Alaska Airline employees from participating in Gay Pride parade in Seattle for,the next 3 years. It is part of their sponsorship agreement with organizers. They can march if they do not wear anything to identify Alaska airline logos. So,childish.
    However, how far we have come for corporations to fight over sponsorship of this event in Seattle. Delta is trying to claim Seattle as their hometown with ads that Seattle is their international hub.

  23. THis is just Delta being Delta. When they disagreed with an airline lobby group (that hey helped organize) they cancelled thier membership in protest. Delta is the big bully on the playground and if they don’t get their way they take the ball and leave.

  24. I have experience in the space. Jason (above) is completely correct. Someone at the Fox is brain dead or thought they could pull a fast one for a big score, taking Delta’s patronage for granted. I think it’s the latter, it’s impossible that anyone with any professional experience paying attention would miss the conflict. Either way that person should lose their job, even if Coca Cola or Home Depot steps in as a sponsor.

    Can’t stand what Delta is doing to their customers and FF program, consequently I’ve stopped flying them out of LA. But on this particular item they are spot on.

  25. The average person doesn’t obsess about points and traveling like the folks who read this blog, and has never even heard of Qatar airlines and knows nothing about their battle with Delta. It’s very reasonable to assume that this reservation wouldn’t set off any red flags for the average person. Delta should simply have asked Fox to cancel the booking due to a conflict of interest, or sternly warned them not to do it again. Delta sucks.

  26. When I first read this on a different news feed I thought the same thing. Very petty and I am sorry Delta thought to even make this an issue, much less pull their sponsorship. But it will make the shareholders happy.

  27. I didn’t know Qatar was going to operating fro ATL. Thanks, Delta for drawing my attention to this new service.

  28. At the Qatar kickoff event at the Fox, Atlanta Mayor Reed welcomed Qatar to Atlanta, and J Lo. performed. Will delta cutoff any current or future ties with and support for Mayor Reed or bar J Lo from flying its airline? No.

    Instead of allowing its anger and frustrations with Qatar to boil over into a huge public hissy fit with a defenseless and locally beloved non-profit organization, delta probably could have come up with a way to use the theater (a public statement or whatever) to continue to advance delta’s interests and undermine Qatar’s. Now delta just looks like a bully. It seems that is the image it wants to project.

  29. Pretty confident that the two other major corporate sponsors (Coke & Bud) would do the same if a Pepsi or Miller event were held at the Fox

  30. The readers who bash Delta here should take a good look at how Qatar treats its female employees. They are virtually modern slaves with no rights. This was a reasonable choice by Delta.

  31. @Tom
    You are right on that point but it is not related to delta’s actions and at same time delta’s middle east sweetheart saudi airlines is not a roll model either but i guess principles go so far when money is involved

  32. @Gary Leff — Well, if Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker rented the Fox for his son’s bar mitzvah (yes, that’s a joke) Delta would have no cause to complain. But that’s obviously not what went on here. This was a very PUBLIC event designed to draw publicity and extol the wonderfulness of Qatar Airways. Oh, and also walk all over Delta at a theatre where they’re the “official airline.” I mean, c’mon. This wasn’t a “box rental at a stadium” — it was the whole stadium! Fox Theater management screwed this up and they’re paying the consequences.

  33. I did multiple searches online and cannot find a single reference to Delta being the exclusive airline for the Fox Theatre. I couldn’t even find a connection between Delta and the theatre except for the press they have generated by their silliness. Delta has made a colossal mistake turning this into a major ordeal. They look childish and they are giving Qatar a ton of free advertising for their new service. Delta has pathetic management.

  34. BTW, if you go to the Fox Theatre website, you see that they have 9 major sponsors (basically, all the big Atlanta companies). Not surprisingly, Coca-Cola is another one. If Pepsi booked the Fox to hold a launch event with J-Lo for their revolutionary new soda — choosing Atlanta to make a statement about how inferior Coca Cola is — would it be “petty” for Coke to complain?

    Seems to me that this is a great lesson for other non-profit organizations in how NOT to manage your sponsorship relations. The textbook example, perhaps.

  35. The Fox Theatre probably made more money off of renting the theatre to Qatar Airlines than they make from their sponsorship from Delta. It’s obvious that Qatar Airlines is way smarter than Delta since they are getting tons and tons of free advertisement from this silly controversy. Next thing you know Delta will be upset because Toni Braxton is an AAdvantage member and she is performing in concert there next month.

  36. Pepsi sponsors major concert tours- I’m sure there were many times in the past that the Fox Theater has had the Pepsi Music Tour up on the marquee, and of course, Coke would never think about pulling their sponsorship over that. Similar to various other music events sponsored by Miller Beer (though that’s kinda moot now that they are owned by the same company)…

    Large corporations sponsor arts organizations in their local towns to support the community where their employees live. Slapping out at a non-profit because they rented a facility to a competitor makes no more sense than complaining about large government subsidies while taking much more massive handouts of your own. Oh, wait a sec…

    Certainly makes me more disinclined to fly Delta, or buy tickets on them for any of my family…

  37. This makes me furious. Sounds like Delta thinks they manage who the Fox can and cannot have. It makes me now look for any other carrier when I fly. As the article states this is so petty and not something one would expect from an airline that is from the Atlanta area and knows the history of the fox. The Fox will be just fine, they will find a new sponsor but I hope the negative publicity of their actions drives down their revenue with their actions

  38. Delta thinks they own Atlanta. Thanks to their padding of pockets in the golden dome of the State House, Atlanta is the only major city in the USA with only one airport. I love the Fox, have been and will continue to be a patron, and I am sure they will soon find a real grown up sponsor soon. As for me, I’m cutting up my Skymiles card. I don’t support Delta’s behavior and will find another airline to fly.

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