Don't bet against Man United when it comes to sponsorship

18 Oct 2019

By: Sport Industry Group

As Manchester United's partnership with Principal Partner Chevrolet comes to an end in 2021, Misha Sher, Worldwide VP, MediaCom Sport & Entertainment says that despite performances, no one should bet against the Premier League giants' ability to get a new, increased deal.

Despite the international break, Manchester United continued to dominate headlines. If there wasn’t enough pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to turn things around on the pitch, now questions are being asked whether United are fading in their commercial appeal. It is rumoured that Chevrolet will not be renewing their existing shirt sponsorship deal and that the club will struggle to match its record agreement with the American auto giant. 

Some commentators have suggested it will be a financial blow to the club; I can see why headlines like these sell newspapers and get clicks. They talk about a club that sits two points above relegation (as of the beginning of October) and hasn’t won the Premier League since Alex Ferguson’s retirement as they find their new place in the world football hierarchy. But they completely miss the mark.

The difficulties on the pitch have been well documented and haven’t been made easier by the fact that United’s two biggest rivals are now dominating English and European football. But any suggestions that Manchester United are somehow less appealing for a potential sponsor are somewhat premature. United are a club in transition – there is no denying that – but they are also a global institution in the world’s most popular sport. Regardless of the personal feelings that many football fans have towards the club, the strength of United’s global appeal is undisputed. This is not just one opinion, there are plenty of readily available facts to support this – you just have to look in the right places. 

Despite all the challenges since Fergie’s retirement, United have consistently finished as one of the top three revenue-generating clubs in the world. Such is the strength of their brand and the fan base that they are almost immune to on-field performances. In fact, in the 20 editions of Deloitte’s Money League, which examines the world’s richest clubs, there was only one occasion when United fell outside of the top three revenue-generating clubs and they have always been the highest placed English club. Therefore, while they haven’t always been the most successful on the pitch, their position as one of the world’s leading sporting brands has allowed them to consistently generate significant commercial revenues.  

Indeed, there is more to the club than its recent form. The Busby Babes, the Class of 92, the 26 league titles, George Best, David Beckham, Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo and all the other stars have captured the imagination of millions of football fans around the world. It’s precisely this that attracts some of the biggest brands in the world to associate with the club and precisely why it wouldn’t be surprising if the new shirt sponsor was another world record deal. If the latest published numbers are to be believed, the fan base has grown by 67% since Ferguson’s retirement; another proof point that the club’s appeal is not adversely impacted by on-field performance.  

The commercial world in which the club operates has certainly evolved and we have a more even playing field that encompasses all facets of entertainment. Brands have more choice than ever, and most rights holders are finding it harder to articulate their point of difference. Manchester United are having to adapt as well but such is the strength of their brand, at least for now, that they can withstand any challenges they’re experiencing on the pitch. 

The club will look at a recent deal between PSG and Accor hotel group, amongst others, which is rumoured to be in the region of $57M per annum, as a reference point on what the market can bear. If PSG, playing in Ligue 1, can command that level of investment, then is it unreasonable to think that United, playing in the Premier League, could secure at least 20% more. I, for one, wouldn’t bet against it.