GM becomes Man U’s ‘auto sponsor’ – but it’s a shirtless deal and might be the wrong horse anyway

All is now revealed and General Motors is to sponsor lots of stuff to do with Manchester United, citing its 600m fans across the world, although it hasn’t supplanted shirt sponsors Aon.

The deal gives GM brand Chevrolet the rights to plaster its logo over just about everything to do with Manchester United, including bits of the stadium, apart from the footballers themselves. And Wayne Rooney and co will be driving around in Chevys as opposed to Audis, BMWs, Mercs and Ferraris. No, I don’t believe it either.

A stadium-naming deal for Old Trafford might make sense (to GM anyway) but there’s been no mention of that so far.

Paul Edwards, GM executive director of global marketing strategy, says: “It’s clear that global football presented us with a significant opportunity to spread Chevrolet around the world. We recognized that it’s not only the world’s biggest sport but also (has) the world’s most engaged fans.”

GM global CMO Joel Ewanick, who seems to be calling these shots, says of his decision to abandon advertising on Facebook and the Super Bowl in favour of things like the Man U deal: “There’s a lot of value in the Super Bowl, but at one point it gets to be too expensive. Enough is enough, you have to pull back.”

No number has been put on this new deal between GM and Man U although I reckon it’s about £20m a year. It would be interesting to know how much GM’s new global media agency Carat had to do with this. Carat high-ups were keen to tell me that it had nothing to do with GM’s recent decision to dump Facebook, which is a bit odd.

And to answer our question posed in the headline: is GM backing the wrong (footballing) horse?

Manchester United has dominated the Premier League in the UK since its inception 20 years ago and, in the process, garnered hundreds of millions of fans worldwide. But it hasn’t performed quite so well in Europe, winning two out of four Champion’s League finals in the last decade when it should have been in far more (and won more). Barcelona and Real Madrid, despite the parlous state of the Spanish economy, are much more powerful football entities.

And now United is under pressure in the UK from new Abu Dhabi-backed ‘noisy neighbours’ Manchester City (the current Premiership champs), Champion’s League winners Chelsea and Arsenal, if it ever agrees to take colourful minerals tycoon Alisher Usmanov’s money.

GM has obviously been adding up the numbers, comparing the 100m or so who watch the Super Bowl with those watching Man U across the world (six times as much).

But these computations only work when your team is winning. GM’s Paul Edwards and Joel Ewanick (who’s the boss, by the way?) are taking a big bet on Glazer family-owned Man U, which is more than many of the club’s local supporters are at the moment.


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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.