Chris Reed
Sep 9, 2014

Do Manchester United have too many sponsors?

Manchester United (MU) recently announced their 40th sponsor/commercial partner. Apart from the MU finance team should anyone else be happy about this? Does it work from a marketing perspective for any of the sponsors?

Do Manchester United have too many sponsors?

Why would a brand want to be one of 40 sponsors? The more brands who are associated with a football club the less likely they are to be seen or to have any cut through. The Champions League actually cut the number of their sponsors, charged more but gave them more coverage and as a result audience recognition of who they were increased dramatically.

How can MU justify the monies charged with the decreased share of voice that they are then offering?

They have sponsors for everything.

As well as the high profile adidas from 2015 and Chevrolet form this season they also have one of the worst wine brands in the world Casillero Del Diablo, the much maligned Aeroflot took over from Turkish Airlines as the official MU carrier, they even have a paint partner, Kansai Paint (lots of jokes about watching last year’s side was like watching paint dry), they have a an official moving partner, Yanmar, Nissin is the official noodle partner and the Hong Kong Jockey Club, for reasons only they must know, are just an “ official partner”, presumably the official “horse partner” had gone to some of their midfielders.

Interestingly AON, (who used to be the main cub sponsor), continued their association by buying out DHL to be the training ground/gear sponsor. Slight more bizarrely (and certainly if I was Chevrolet I wouldn’t be happy) all MU’s latest signings have been revealed at their AON training ground with the new players in AON training gear. Not a Chevrolet logo to be seen. Who’s getting the value for money there?

You will see by many of these names that hardly any are from the UK. MU were really the first football brand to market themselves abroad and they have reaped the benefits of this ever since.

It also reflects poorly on MU to be exploiting their global fan base to such an extent without necessarily any kind of quality control. I would be very interested in whether fans remember any of their sub-sponsors, what happend to Turkish Airlines and Mr Potato Head for example? MU took the money and ran, onto the next brand who no doubt has a MU supporting CMO at the helm.

As well as having the most sponsors of any football club MU also have the worst sponsor adverts ever made. Clearly once the sponsor has paid for the association there is no budget left for the creative.

MU do have to make up for the fact that they are not in the Champions League or even Europe this year so will lost at least US$30m. They have also gone on one helluva desperate spending spree and now have the most expensive football squad in the English Premier League. Sponsors seem keen to fill the gap and they are the envy of every other EPL side let alone European rivals.

I admire the commercial team’s sales ability. However I think it has become a crowded market that long term will just devalue the value of what they’re selling. Other clubs are trying to copy them with various degrees of success.

If you’re a more parochial football club, like my team Newcastle United, it doesn’t tend to look outside of the North East of England for a sponsor. Hence whey they are left with the worst sponsor in the EPL the derided and disliked (payday loans business feeding on the vulnerable).

It is often said that MU have more fans in Asia than anyone else in the world and more in Norwich for example than Norwich City do. That coin has two sides though. On a recent trip back to the UK all I saw kids wearing were Barcelona tops. There wasn’t a MU top in sight across the country from north to midlands to south all I could see were Barca tops.

Bearing in mind Barca had a similarly disastrous season as MU did last year and this is not about success, it’s about marketing. Whereas kids in Spain are probably wearing MU shirts and if the rivals and EPL champions Manchester City have their way their tops too. Kids in the UK are looking globally for their associations just as kids outside of the UK are looking beyond their own home teams.

It is a global game, never more so that when you see many of the top clubs playing a pre-season tournament in the United States, primarily to sold out crowds into the 100’s of thousands to market their brands to a hungry audience.

I also question what this does for the EPL’s main sponsor Barclays. Their share of voice at MU will be many times less than at other less commercially aggressive clubs. Already the directors of Barclays said last year that the sponsorship had no value and are likely to pull out after the current season. The FA Cup’s sponsor Budweiser pulled out for similar reasons and the FA have not yet found a replacement.

There is only so much money to go around and aggressive and globally attractive clubs will reap the benefits of marketing the brand whether or not they are continually successful on the pitch or not.


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