Players for Manchester United, the U.K.’s legendary football (soccer) club, will be sporting AIG logos on their shirts for the next four years. Man United’s chief executive David Gill announced yesterday, April 6, at a press conference at Old Trafford that the club had agreed to a £56.5 million ($98.88 million) deal with American International Group.
The agreement is the biggest of its kind in English football, and will run for four years from the beginning of next season. With the exception of the U.S., football (called soccer in the U.S. to distinguish it from the highly American version of rugby, which bears the same name), is far and away the world’s most popular sport. Man United is also arguably the world’s best known team with fans from Bahrain to Bhutan to Bangkok to Bakersfield following its games.
It also takes money to run a football club, so Gill seemed pleased on all fronts when he stated: “We are delighted to begin our relationship with AIG. This is a deal that is right for Manchester United and it underlines our position as the world’s leading club. AIG’s global operations complement our great fan base and we are excited about the global prospects this relationship brings.”
The deal comes only months after Florida businessman Malcolm Glazer, president and CEO of First Allied Corp. and the majority owner of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, bought a controlling stake in Man United, a deal that angered many local fans.
There was no anger showing, however, in the pictures and commentary on the club’s Website (http://www.manutd.com) where beaming dignitaries from the Club and AIG, surrounded by a rather more subdued looking group of players, posed for the camera. The trainer (coach) Sir Alex Ferguson appeared equally pleased with the deal noting that it is “a fantastic partnership. It can be very good for us. The club wants to pick the right partner and I think we’ve done that.”
AIG President and CEO Martin J. Sullivan duly noted his delight with the deal as well. “We are very pleased to associate AIG, a global leader in insurance and financial services, with Manchester United, one of the most successful football clubs in the game and one of the world’s leading sports brands. We believe this relationship will mutually benefit both organizations and we look forward to maximizing the value of this high-profile sponsorship to help grow AIG’s businesses around the world,” he commented:
Paradoxically, the U.S., where commercial announcements are an ever more intrusive fact of life during broadcasts of sporting events (an NFL game is theoretically played in an hour, but due to the commercials it usually takes three), has yet to adopt shirt sponsorship as a means of promotion.
This is not the case with football (soccer), which to some extent depends on such sponsorships to help defray the costs of running the team’s operations. Sometimes the results can be quite odd. Lyon, the French Champions, from the city that was the birthplace of the automaker Peugeot, who still proudly uses the city’s Lion logo, is sponsored by rival car-maker Renault. Worse still, it’s not even cars. Lyon players bear a stenciled logo ‘Renault Trucks” (in English yet) on their shirts.
When the people who own America’s professional football, basketball, baseball and hockey franchises wake up to this lucrative revenue source they will of course resist the urge to adopt it – sure they will. This opens the possibility for other international organizations to follow AIG’s lead, as Allianz already has by sponsoring the Williams Formula 1 team. So don’t be too surprised if some day soon you will see “Lloyd’s” emblazoned on the broad backs of New England Patriot players and maybe even ING, who already sponsors the New York marathon, blended with Yankee pinstripes.