"Sponsoring" here means exactly what you think it means: the airline is putting its name on the stations, as if the Underground was some kind of random baseball stadium. Travelers and locals looking at the venerated London Underground map will now see stations labeled "Emirates Greenwich Peninsula" and "Emirates Royal Docks." See above.
Purists regarding London history and architecture and nostalgia, suffice it to say, are not pleased. The entire thing feels like "a minor commercial encroachment" opines the Economist, also noting that "minor" is a bit of an understatement. The Underground map was created by Harry Beck in 1931 and nevernot oncehas had the name of a corporation appeared on the illustration.
That said, it's not as if the London Underground wasn't already a place where corporations push themselves on commuters. Almost every square inch of wall is covered with advertisements, from the terminal, down the stairs, and on the platform. We know because every time we see QR codes on platform adswhich is every time we stand on an Underground platforma little part of us dies inside. So the entire Underground is already covered in corporate billboards and posters. Why should the maps themselves be any different?
Still, it does kind of feel a little bit sad, doesn't it?
[Photo: The Economist]