The question of Manchester United’s shirt sponsor has made the news recently with reports that giant motor manufacturers Chevrolet are about to pull the plug. Commercial partnership deals between United and their sponsors tend to be long term with record sums involved so whoever steps in to cover will need deep pockets and be prepared to sit on their investment for a few years.
As the story continues to develop, we thought it was a good time to look back at the most famous Manchester United sponsors throughout the club’s history.
The long-term nature of these deals means that Manchester United have only had five shirt sponsors in their long history. Of course, it’s a little unfair to take the last 140 or so years into account because partnerships of this kind are a relatively new phenomenon in football.
The first to get involved were Sharp who became synonymous with the club and were present throughout much of the Glory Years under Sir Alex Ferguson. The electronics brand first came along in 1982 and their 18 year association with the Red Devils remains a record for longevity that may never be broken.
The original contract was said to be worth some £500,000 back in 1982 and it quickly grew from there to become a multi-million pound partnership. Sharp and Manchester United eventually parted company in 2000 and it wasn’t a beneficial move for the firm. Speaking in 2010, Sharp’s Marketing Communications Manager Martin Arnold said:
Since we stepped away from Manchester United, the awareness of Sharp has fallen.
Nevertheless, sales of retro kits featuring the Electronics brand remain steady and the name ‘Sharp’ is still very much in evidence on Old Trafford matchdays.
The company that had the unenviable task of following Sharp were Vodafone. The communications company signed on the dotted line back in 2000 and, over 18 years, the cost of sponsoring Manchester United had risen from £500,000 to a cool £30 million.
Vodafone were meant to hang around for eight years but, as it turned out, they ended their most recent contract two years early in 2005. At the time, the communications company announced that they were targeting bigger things and subsequently, it was quickly confirmed that Vodafone would be joining a lengthy list of UEFA Champions League partners.
Manchester United seemed a little put out as Commercial Director Andy Anson stated:
“The Manchester United shirt is the most iconic in sport. The club feels that in the current market there is a genuine chance to attract significant additional investment.”
There is no immediate concern in terms of Chevrolet and their possible departure. The American car firm has a contract in place until 2022 but the figures involved with Manchester United shirt deals suggest that the search for a new partner should start sooner rather than later.
Chevrolet are pumping in a colossal $559 million into United’s coffers in a seven year deal which began in 2015 but could history repeat itself and see the car giant follow the lead of Vodafone by ending their contract early? It all began in happier times when Chevrolet followed a line of firms to take up the challenge of United’s Commercial Director by partnering in with a shirt that was the ‘most iconic in sport.’
It was a good fit for both parties as Chevrolet, who are owned by the General Motors Group, were already the Official Vehicle partner for Manchester United. They slotted in seamlessly to take over from AIG and the very striking design of the company logo has helped to see sales of replica shirts rocket all over the world.
Sadly, it seems as though the Chevrolet brand will not be in place for much longer.
The Glazers have attracted plenty of criticism but they certainly know how to attract American sponsorship. The reinsurance company first got involved at Old Trafford in 2009 and while the shirt sponsor deal was switched to Chevrolet five years later, the firm continued their partnership with the club in other areas.
When the shirt deal was first announced, it was said to be worth some £80 million to the Premier League club – split over four years. It was an amicable partnership on all sides and while AON were to subsequently step aside in terms of shirt sponsorship, they remained actively involved and highly visible at Old Trafford. In April 2013, it was announced that the US risk management company had signed an even bigger deal – worth a staggering £157 million over eight years as AON agreed to become the title sponsor of Manchester United’s training ground and training kit.
The size and length of the contract just confirms United’s status as one of the biggest commercial draws in World Sport.
Completing the sponsorship picture are AIG – another US based company who go by the full title of American Insurance Groups. The deal was first announced in 2006 and was a record for the English Premier League at the time. Over four years, it was said that AIG would be spending £56 million on their investment, thereby dwarfing other arrangements in England’s top flight.
Sadly, there was no happy ending to the contract and, with financial issues dogging their operation, there was a point in the 2008/09 season when United could have been left without a logo on their playing shirts. As of March 2009, AIG had been bailed out on four separate occasions by American tax payers after incurring huge losses.
In fact, their own words give the most damning verdict on this period as AIG stated that they needed time to rebrand their ‘wounded and disgraced’ name. As it was, Manchester United kept the logo in place but it was clearly time for a change.
So who will be next? The answer to that question will depend on Chevrolet and their future intentions in regard to the current shirt sponsorship deal. If the car manufacturer is happy to run down the clock and let the contract go through to expiry in 2022 then those responsible at Old Trafford have time on their hands as far as lining up a new sponsor is concerned.
Alternatively, Chevrolet may just choose to buy out the remaining two years. It would be a costly move and one that could see a new shirt sponsor in place for the 2020/21 campaign. All of that is in the future but it does seem likely that Manchester United will already be considering the identity of only the sixth ever shirt sponsor in the history of this great club.