Are Manchester United-Chevrolet Heading For Divorce? Not So Fast, Says Chevy

    • Manchester United and Chevrolet's $559 Million, seven-year jersey sponsorship expires in 2021.
    • British press says they're done. But global Chevrolet marketer Kevin Bull tells FOS door still open.

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English tabloids have reported both Manchester United F.C. and Chevrolet are played out – and don’t wish to renew their $559 million jersey deal beyond 2021.  

But don’t believe everything you read, warns Kevin Bull, Chevrolet’s global director of partnerships. The door is still open for a renewal.

In a statement to Front Office Sports, Bull said General Motors’ Chevrolet division wants to continue working together with the iconic English soccer club. 

“We are immensely proud of our partnership with Manchester United. Since we became partners in 2012, the sponsorship has had a significant and positive impact on the Chevrolet business driving awareness for us in our key markets and has inspired and empowered millions of people through our activation programmes where the club is one of the most recognised brands. We look forward to continuing to work together closely to activate and maximise the sponsorship.”

So does that mean Chevrolet wants to renew?

“At this point, I can’t allude to the future aspirations and commitments of our business,” answered Bull. “But as stated before, we continue to maximize the current partnership.”

Manchester United declined to comment on whether it’s in the market for a new jersey sponsor. But a team spokesperson said the Chevrolet partnership is working well.

“Chevrolet is a fantastic partner. The sponsorship continues to achieve its objectives for both parties and we will continue to work to activate and maximise it.”

A lot can change at the negotiating table. Still, Bull’s comments counter recent British media reports the “unhappy” automotive giant is heading for the exits at Old Trafford after “massively overpaying” seven years ago.

“Industry sources say that bosses at General Motors (GM), of which Chevrolet is a division, have been thoroughly unimpressed with United’s performance over the duration of the deal, which expires at the end of next season,” reported the Daily Mail on Oct. 10.

“However, there is also a belief that the deal was never going to be renewed. One insider said: ‘It was doomed from the start. The feeling within was that Chevrolet had massively overpaid and it was never going to get done again.’”

The Daily Mail added Manchester United is quietly sounding out major brands interested in reaching the club’s estimated 1.1 billion worldwide fans. 

The global partnership between the English Premier League champion and the American automotive giant dates back to the summer of 2012

That’s when Manchester United agreed to the record $559 million, seven-year deal to put Chevrolet’s “bowtie” logo on the front of its iconic red shirts. 

The deal kicked off with the 2014-2015 season and runs through the 2020-2021 season. 

Chevrolet agreed to pay roughly twice what insurance giant Aon, Manchester United’s previous shirt sponsor, paid. Within days, GM fired chief marketer Joel Ewanick. He later defended his deal with Manchester United as a “no-brainer.”

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There’s no doubt GM paid a premium. But if the two partners do go bust, it will probably be due as much to Manchester United’s struggles on the pitch.

Heading into the landmark deal, the Red Devils had won a record 20 league titles. 

But since adding the bowtie to their jerseys, Manchester United have won zero Premier League championships. The previously dominant club has struggled, hampered by turnover in the lineup and front office.

The $559 million price tag is steep for even the biggest global marketers. But marketing consultant Allen Adamson of MetaForce thinks the premium real estate on the front of Manchester United kits might be worth more in 2019 than seven years ago. 

Despite their struggles, Manchester United still ranks with Real Madrid C.F, FC Barcelona, the New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys as one of the world’s most popular and valuable sports franchises.

According to KPMG, Manchester United has more than 130 million followers on social media, ranking only behind Real Madrid and FC Barcelona among soccer clubs.

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Manchester United’s competitors are forging their own rich deals. Barcelona struck a $232 million, four-year jersey sponsorship with Japanese online firm Rakuten in November 2016. Last fall, Real Madrid renewed its shirt deal with Emirates for $311 million over five years.

Maybe there’s a move back to real-world sponsorships as the once boundless digital universe becomes crowded.

“The thing is this is not a digital play. There’s so much clutter on other channels, that getting physical, branded things has become more valuable,” said Adamson, who also serves as an adjunct professor at the NYU Stern School of Business. “In a world of digital overload, getting connected to physical things, like jerseys, is becoming more valuable.”