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The flight to quality

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Mihir Bose | 16:57 UK time, Wednesday, 21 January 2009

There is a story told of how, soon after the Manchester United take-over by the Glazers, one of the brothers Bryan decided to get more money from their sponsors.

The Glazers had looked at the United contracts and decided they could and should do better.

Brother Bryan was the man to spearhead the sponsorship and marketing drive.

Marketing sources have recounted to me how aggressively this Glazer went in often asking for double the money and totally taking the marketing men aback.

But the Glazer tactics worked.

Vodafone paying £9m a year were replaced by AIG paying just over £14m a year, a 45% increase.

And this at a time when United were in their fallow period, not long after a bruising takeover battle which had seen the new owners fall out with many of the fans, some of whom went off to form their own team, Roy Keane leave and United without a title win for three years.

Now they go into the market as triple champions - English, European and World, hence their search for sponsors worldwide extending from dear old Pru to Sahara the Indian company who also sponsor the Indian cricket team.

Indeed I am told the United drive for their new sponsors is led by a hard-nosed marketing team working in London and targeting many of the world's leading companies.

This strategy suggests that United believe the credit crunch does not mean the game of sponsorship, which has blossomed in the last quarter of a century, is actually coming to an end, at least not for United.

Man Utd win the FIFA Club World Cup

However they and everybody accept that the sponsorship game has changed.

It is what marketing men are calling a flight to quality.

Keith Wyness, who knows a thing or two about running football clubs having run Aberdeen and Everton, confirms this.

He told me: "What has changed is that football shIrts can no longer be trophy assets. A club cannot just go out there and expect sponsors to fall into their laps.

"They will have to demonstrate that they are good value and they are providing a return to their sponsors. The sponsors will want to sweat the assets they have acquired.

"I agree there will be a flight to quality. Clubs that are doing well and who have had good relationships with their sponsors will still do all right.

"But the general run of clubs who just expect sponsors to queue to sign up just because they can get a football shirt are in for a shock. All this means the days of easy sell in football are over."

Or in simple terms if you are a successful team like United then you will get another sponsor and even increase the money offered but if you are not successful then you may have to adjust to life without a sponsor as West Brom have done and West Ham had to do for some months.

United are making bullish noises but not all football clubs have their track record or can be as hopeful of continuing to make a lot of money from sponsorship.


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