How can General Motors sponsor Manchester United and Liverpool?

It may have escaped the attention of General Motors executives (whose ranks now don’t include former CMO Joel Ewanick) but Manchester United and Liverpool are the two deadliest rivals in English football.

Yet the company is proposing to sponsor both clubs. A day after firing Ewanick on Sunday over the initial Man U football deal, new marketing boss Alan Batey announced that GM was to sponsor United’s shirts in place of Aon, upgrading its previous deal with the club to sponsor the car parks or something.

But the week before it had announced that it was to become Liverpool’s ‘auto’ sponsor too. Surely some mistake?

Manchester United and Liverpool have been rivals in Britain’s north west for ever but the relationship between the two clubs’ supporters has become especially poisonous since United, under Sir Alex Ferguson, began to overhaul Liverpool’s record of 18 top flight championships. Man U now leads with 19, most of them Premiership titles which Liverpool, the cock of the walk in the 1980s, has yet to win.

So it’s fair to say that neither team’s supporters will be over the moon about their shared sponsor, however much dosh it brings in. What happens when the two teams play each other?

And there’s more. The GM/Chevrolet deal with Man U is said to be worth £25m a year for seven years from the 2014/15 season with, get this, a $100m (£64m) ‘activation’ fee. No wonder Ewanick got fired. Mind boggling.

The two clubs have one thing in common of course. They both have American owners. Man U is owned by the Glazer family which bought the club with its own money, ran up a £600m debt pile and is now trying to sell ten per cent of the shares in an IPO, valuing the club at about £3bn in total, to make a small inroad into the debt and put more dosh in Glazer pockets.

Liverpool is currently owned by John W. Henry’s Fenway outfit which also owns the Boston Red Sox baseball team. Henry and co have poured money into the club but failed to turn around its fortunes. In the process it has sacked manager Kenny Dalglish, a Liverpool legend, and replaced him with untried Brendan Rogers from Swansea. Prior to Henry moving in Liverpool was owned by Tom Hicks and George Gillett, also American, who nearly bankrupted the club.

So it all augurs well for GM’s two new expensive sponsor deals then? Not necessarily..

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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.