How Manchester United Exploit Their Global Brand Like Nobody Else

Sam Pilger@sampilgerContributing Football WriterJune 28, 2013

Manchester United celebrated their 20th league title last season.
Manchester United celebrated their 20th league title last season.Alex Livesey/Getty Images

The epicentre of where Manchester United plot how to exploit their brand is not at Old Trafford, where the team performs most weeks during the season, but over 200 miles away in an office in London.  

It is here on a side street in one of the capital city’s most exclusive areas of Mayfair that United devise how to maximise the club’s name in as many parts of the world as possible.

Manchester United have had a worldwide appeal since the 1950s when people were drawn to the story of the Busby Babes, United’s title-winning side of homegrown young players, eight of whom were tragically killed in a plane crash in Munich in 1958. 

As Bobby Charlton has said in "The Treasures of Manchester United," “Before Munich it was just Manchester’s club, but afterwards everyone owned a little bit of it,” while his teammate and fellow Munich survivor Bill Foulkes said in the same book: “The crash started the legend…it built the aura that surrounds the club.” 

During the '60s, the trio of Charlton, George Best and Denis Law won two titles and the club's first-ever European Cup to further expand the club’s fanbase.

Even during the '70s and '80s when United were in Liverpool’s shadow and went 26 years without winning the League, they remained English football’s most popular club. 

United’s recent dominance of English football coincided with the launch of the Premier League in 1992 and ever more lucrative broadcasting deals, which have fuelled the enormous growth of interest in both the club and the league around the world. 

As United enjoyed an era of unprecedented success, fans all around the world have been able to watch most of their games and enjoy the skills of Ryan Giggs, Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo and now Robin van Persie.

As reported in the Telegraph, Manchester United’s own research found that they have an estimated 659 million fans across the world. 

According to Reuters, at the start of the Premier League in 1992-93, Manchester United’s revenue was £25 million, and now, at the end of the 2011-12 season, it has grown to £320 million.

"Manchester United has been transformed as a football club under the management of Sir Alex Ferguson," said Dan Jones, a partner in the Sports Business Group at Deloitte.

"Financially, the last 26 years have coincided with a wider revolution in English football with massive investment in the game, particularly driven by domestic and international broadcast deals.”

In January, Mike Ozanian of Forbes (h/t the Daily Mail) also estimated that United had become the first team to be valued at more than $3 billion. 

In the most recent Deloitte Money League, according to Owen Gibson of the Guardian, Manchester United generated the third biggest income in world football with £367 million, trailing behind Real Madrid with £480 million and Barcelona with £451 million. 

However, if Manchester United could keep the majority of their television money as the two Spanish clubs do rather than having to more equally share it with the rest of the Premier League, they would surely overtake them. 

In recent years, Manchester United have kept pace with the Spanish clubs by devising a new policy of regional sponsorship. 

Rather than sell their partnerships to a single company on a global basis, United sell these deals several times over on a regional basis across several territories.   

It wasn’t that long ago that United had only two major sponsorship deals, with their kit manufacturers and kit sponsors, but now, according to the club website, they have a total of 34 across the globe, including an official noodles partner (yes, seriously) in Asia, Oceania and the Middle East and an official telecommunications partner in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. 

"To take mobile operators as an example, instead of doing a deal with Vodafone for a few million, we're in 44 countries with a £21m guarantee and now we're moving to others," the Manchester United chief executive Ed Woodward told the Guardian's Gibson last year.

We're now doing credit cards – we're in 16 countries. We're doing soft drinks. We look at companies that don't exist outside their territories or where decisions are made at a regional level. You get more money, there's no dilution and they market us more in those territories. We're not even at base camp. The rate limiting factor is resource. 

The next step for United is to exploit the growing interest in the club in the United States, where they plan to open an office in New York in the near future.

"The US is becoming the No1 opportunity for us," Woodward told Gibson. "The Glazers didn't buy the club because they saw the US as a big soccer market; they saw it as a niche sport there. But something changed in the last two years."