Manchester United, the world’s biggest club, found a new revenue stream yesterday when it announced two new strategic partners. The new partners are Wahaha, the Hangzhou based beverage company, and China Commercial Bank, one of China’s largest state banks, and both agreements will last for three years.
United’s focus on Asia, and in particular the Chinese market, is obvious from these agreements. Former United star Andy Cole was present at the announcement yesterday in Hangzhou and we can surely expect plenty more United stars coming to China in the next few years. The club has made the trip over to China a number of times the past few years, most recently last summer when they faced off against Shanghai Shenhua.
It doesn’t need to be mentioned that there are no branches of China Commercial Bank in England or that United’s new official beverage partner Wahaha isn’t available down at the local Tesco shop in Manchester. The new scope of football clubs, especially the bigger ones, is to serve as a global brand.
Wahaha has wasted no time after getting the agreement in place, advertising at bus stops around Beijing already sported Wahaha products alongside pictures of United players. The China Commercial Bank deal makes slightly more sense, allowing Red Devils supporters in China the chance to show their pride with United credit cards.
While United vastly overstated its fandom in China at over 100 million, they are definitely one of the country’s more popular clubs. The club has done more than most, including regular visits to the region, to grow their popularity across China. Not all their moves have led to success, the decision to sign Dong Fangzhuo to “sell shirts” is one of the bigger failures. Also, the club’s lack of a Sina Weibo page, the country’s most popular microblog platform, is a surprising missed opportunity to connect with fans.
With teams always looking for new ways to make money, individual country sponsorships seems like a wise way to go, however club’s need to be careful that these moves won’t water down their “brand.”
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