Manchester United commercial director Richard Arnold claims the club are only starting to scratch the surface of the mammoth global opportunities available to them.
Arnold has been responsible for implementing the groundbreaking ‘territory specific’ approach to sponsorships that last year enabled United to become the first club to break through the £100million barrier for annual commercial revenue alone.
Those figures are certain to increase even further in the coming years.
Twelve months ago, United signed a £40million four-year deal for DHL to have their name emblazoned over their training kit, whilst only last month, US car maker Chevrolet paid an estimated £357million to become the Red Devils’ shirt sponsors for seven years from 2014.
Underneath that are numerous minor partners, either in individual countries or certain products – sports betting company bwin are the latest – who have paid a sizeable sum to cement a ‘partnership’ with the Old Trafford outfit.
It is clear maximising these revenues was part of the grand plan when the Glazer family completed their controversial takeover in 2005.
Arsenal CEO Ivan Gazidis has already expressed his admiration for United’s commercial operation.
But listening to Arnold, it is clear there is much more to come.
“We are still a comparatively new team,” said Arnold. “We have been working on this for three or four years and have recently opened an office in Hong Kong. “We have a very good track record in mobile and new media. We have 27 million fans on Facebook.
“But in many areas we are just starting and are very early in our development.”
There are those, particularly in the anti-Glazer camp, who feel the approach diminishes United’s status as a football club.
Yet is seems such an approach to commercial opportunities will become the norm, certainly amongst the biggest clubs, with the greatest fan bases.
Earlier this year, Arnold claimed United had 659million followers worldwide.
The information was greeted with immense scepticism by many long-standing – and more local – fans.
But to companies like bwin, the figure carries resonance and explains why, though they are shirt sponsors of Real Madrid, they feel a tie-up with United offers something different.
“United is one of the biggest sports brands in the world, and I am not talking just about football,” said bwin co-chief executive Norbert Teufelberger.
“In terms of the followers, United are still the biggest. It was well documented in their public statements – 650million fans. Real Madrid is 300 million. There is a difference, particularly in their exposure to Asian markets.”
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