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Are Recent Airline Deals Unethical Sponsorships?

Yesterday, AirTran announced that the airline was now the official airline of the Atlanta Falcons. The deal includes signage in the Georgia Dome, a Falcons themed plane and use of Falcons players in their advertising.

The one thing it didn’t include?

Actually flying the team.

And I have a problem with that.

Just like you expect an athlete endorsing a product to really use that product, you expect a team to use their official airline.

It’s not that easy to hide the facts. What happens if the Falcons go to the Super Bowl and fans show up at the airport to wish the team good luck? They’ll find them boarding a Delta plane.

The same sham deal was exposed when the Arizona Cardinals –- sponsored by US Airways –- flew in to the game on the airline they use, Northwest.

The problem is this: The team pays for their charter deal. The airlines pay for their marketing deals. They are not connected.

The team looks for the best price on airline fare for their charters. We should mention now that AirTran doesn't even fly NFL teams because their airplanes are too small to handle the capacity needed. So no, they don't fly their other "official" teams, the Baltimore Ravens and the Indianapolis Colts, either.

And at the end of the day, they get away with it. They’ll do what they did yesterday and not say anything about flying the team, hoping that someone doesn’t expose them.

Marketing people will tell you that the current system exists because the charter business and the sponsorship business are two separate areas. And I understand that concept. I understand that AirTran is using this deal to market to the fans instead of market to the players.

But I think the system really exists because it has been accepted and because it has been allowed to exist this way. And it shouldn’t be. If you’re the official airline of the team, you should fly the team.

Questions? SportsBiz@cnbc.com