Manchester United's global appeal goes from strength to strength
While Manchester City's incredible summer spending has, for once, left United struggling to claim the limelight on their own doorstep, the global appeal and popularity of the Premier League champions remains the one thing that City's money cannot buy. United's four-game tour of the Far East begins with a fixture against a Malaysian XI in Kuala Lumpur tomorrow, but progress on the pitch, with Michael Owen due to make his club debut, is only one factor of the money-spinning trip to Asia. Antonio Valencia has not made the trip but will link up with his team-mates at a four-team tournament in Munich at the end of the month. Also at home are the injured Nemanja Vidic and Gabriel Obertan, while Owen Hargreaves is continuing his rehabilitation in Colorado ahead of a scheduled return to action in the autumn. Led by the club's London-based operation, headed by commercial director Richard Arnold, United have stolen a march on their Premier League and European rivals by securing a series of lucrative sponsorship deals, partnerships and territory-specific agreements that will bring the club huge sums from 14 commercial partners next season. The club are expected to bank in the region of an extra £23.5 million on last season. Research carried out by the club suggests they have 80 million supporters in Asia alone, so from Saudi Arabia to Vietnam, South Korea and Indonesia, United are making the most of their status in the region. The Far East tour, on which United will play in Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea and China, will generate £6 million for the club. Kumho Tyres and Hi Seoul (Korea), Aigo (China) and 3 Indonesia will all be rewarded for their investment with United bringing their own particular brand of corporate stardust in the coming 10 days. A £2 million tour sponsorship deal with Telekom Malaysia is a handsome return for just two days in Kuala Lumpur. When United's plane arrives in Malaysia this morning, it will carry 73 staff. The players will take the spotlight, but the commercial staff will be just as important as the Wayne Rooneys and Rio Ferdinands. United chief executive David Gill admits that the draining trips to the Far East are now crucial to the club's financial strength. "Our fans in Asia generate money for the club, and the reception United get in Asia is unlike anywhere else on earth," he said. South America, with the emerging economies of Brazil and Venezuela, is next on United's hit list and deals could soon be thrashed out in that untapped region. United's ability to replace their £56 million, four-year shirt deal with AIG by prising an £80 million four-year package from AON, in a global downturn, sums up their pulling power. David Prosperi, AON vice-president (Global Public relations), said: "The first year after AIG's sponsorship agreement began, they came from nowhere on the list of the world's top 100 brands to 47th. "Manchester United has no equal in sports when it comes to global brand awareness, particularly in Asia. "We believe that Asia, particularly India and China, are prime targets for revenue growth and being associated with the Manchester United brand will, we believe, help us to greatly build our brand and grow our business in this region."
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