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The Cautionary History of the Man United Jersey Sponsorship

Regardless of its recent troubles on the pitch, English Premier League soccer club Manchester United remains one of the most well-known and valuable sports franchises in the world. Valuations as high as $8.45 billion have been floated in the month since its American owners the Glazer family announced their intention to “explore strategic alternatives including new investment into the club, a sale, or other transactions.”

Many of the factors that contribute to such a stratospheric number—an enormous worldwide fan base, a long tradition of on-field excellence, superstar players, etc. —have also driven the value of the club’s marquee partnership asset—sponsor identification on the front of its famed red jerseys.

However, much like the change of fortune the team has experienced in the Premier League standings of late, things have not gone smoothly for one of the most iconic pieces of sports marketing real estate.

Of the six jersey-front partners ManU has had over the past 40 years, only Sharp Electronics, the first—and at 18 years the longest-serving—shirt sponsor had a smooth run. The various issues faced by the other five brands serve as a powerful reminder that even the most prominent of partnerships can fall victim to changing priorities, questionable decision-making and external market forces.

The second brand to grace United’s kit was Vodafone, which took over from Sharp in 2000. Although the partnership run appeared to deliver positive returns for both parties, in 2005, two years into a four-year extension, the telecommunications giant opted out of the deal and essentially replaced it with a first-time UEFA Champions League partnership.

Vodafone was replaced by global insurance company AIG, which signed a four-year, $100-million deal in 2006. Like the preceding sponsorships, it was successful for the company and the property, but AIG fell victim to the global financial crisis in 2008 and had to be bailed out by the U.S. government to the tune of $152 billion. The company announced in January 2009 that it would not renew the deal upon its expiration the following year.

Insurance brokerage Aon followed, signing a four-year deal at an average annual fee of $32.4 million beginning in 2010. In an unprecedented move after just two years of Aon’s sponsorship, ManU announced that General Motors’ Chevrolet brand would take over the jersey front when Aon’s deal ended. Although publicly positioned as being done in concert with Aon’s desire to have a focused partnership that offered more tangible business-to-business benefits versus broad exposure, insiders privately divulged that Aon was completely blindsided by the move.

The historic value of Chevrolet’s offer—estimated at an average of $77 million per year over seven years—was apparently too much for the club to risk offering a renewal to Aon. However, although the automaker’s sponsorship lasted the full length of the contract, the price tag paid by a brand that had no presence in Europe was questioned from the start and the executive who signed it, Chevy’s global CMO Joel Ewanick, was fired the day before the deal was announced for failing to “properly report financial details” about the agreement, according to sources cited by Reuters at the time.

In 2021, United announced a five-year shirt sponsorship agreement with Germany-based software company TeamViewer, reportedly worth $57 million per season. But in August 2022, the company pre-emptively announced it would not renew the deal, citing the need to “reassess its long-term marketing strategy in light of the current macro environment.”

Then last week, the two parties agreed to end their relationship earlier than 2026, stating, “After a period of collaborative, private discussions over the past months, Manchester United and TeamViewer AG have reached a mutually beneficial agreement under which Manchester United shall have the option to buy back the rights to the club’s shirt front sponsorship. Once a new shirt front partner is selected and takes on this role, TeamViewer will continue as a valued member of Manchester United’s suite of global partners, providing Manchester United with remote connectivity solutions, until the end of the original contract term in 2026. TeamViewer’s financial commitments to Manchester United remain unchanged whilst they remain the club’s shirt front partner, after which their financial commitments will reflect their status as a global partner.”

Seven is supposed to be a lucky number, so perhaps ManU’s seventh jersey partner will have better fortune than the previous five.

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