The English Premier League is arguably the top professional league in Europe. It is also the most watched sporting league in the world and the top earning soccer league.
And Manchester United is arguably the most globally recognizable brand in the EPL.
According to an annual study done by business advisory firm Deloitte, Manchester United made £257.1 million in 2008—making it the world’s second wealthiest football club by revenue, directly under Real Madrid.
Roughly 25 percent of that figure came from commercial revenue. Put another way, Manchester United earned £64.3 million from sponsorships and merchandising during a one-year period.
That is a huge chunk of cash. A chunk many companies are vigorously competing to be a part of.
United is widely acknowledged as the best-supported club in the world with an estimated fan base of 333 million. Of these, 190 million fans live in Asia and 72 million in China.
Since football is wildly popular all over Asia, sponsoring EPL football clubs gives companies colossal brand visibility, which continues to grow as satellite television and exclusive rights to EPL games become more and more accessible to people across Asia.
As of 2007, English Premier League games were broadcast to over 600 million homes in 202 countries in Europe, Asia, Australasia, Oceania, Africa, the Americas and the Middle East.
ESPN-Star Sports, Asia’s biggest sports content provider, announced in early October that it won exclusive rights to broadcast EPL matches in 18 markets across Asia until 2013. For the first time ever, it will show all 380 matches each season live across several platforms including television, cell phone, and Internet.
Of the 16 official sponsors of Manchester United, 6 of them are Asian-owned companies, signifying a trend that is becoming more in more popular in the EPL—sponsors are increasingly becoming Asian-based. These sponsors range from telecommunications companies to vacation destinations to airlines to tire companies.
Manchester United is already ahead of the Asian-based company sponsorship curve, which could explain why the club earns the highest revenue in the EPL. It embraces the Asian market and welcomes players, fans and companies alike.
This year, Manchester United made trips to China, South Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia during the summer months to appease their foreign fans. The club is constantly looking to enter new markets.
As AIG, their current jersey sponsor, had to be bailed out by the United States government, the club had to look elsewhere for a new jersey sponsor for next season.
This decision comes down to one factor. Asia is where the money is.
That is the main reason why Aon, a U.S. insurance company, decided to dish out £80 million over four years to be the jersey sponsor for United. Aon saw how the AIG brand grew in Asia through their links with the football club and wanted to gain recognition in the area.
Furthermore, Asian-based jersey sponsors are not a foreign concept in the English Premier League, Chelsea sports Samsung, a Korean electronics group, on their jerseys and Everton sports Chang, a Thailand beer company, on their jerseys.
As Asia’s economy continues to sky rocket and satellite broadcasting deals continue to prosper, it is not off base to suggest that an Asian sponsor will some day be front and center on the jersey of Manchester United.
That day will probably occur sooner than you think.