The seven-year, $ 559 million sponsorship deal that Chevrolet signed in 2012 with English Premier League football/soccer club Manchester United is starting to look like a costly mistake as time goes by. The deal already cost General Motors global marketing chief at the time Joel Ewanick his job, two months after it was signed. Ewanick then defended his decision by declaring “It was clear that the deal would bring Chevrolet increased brand exposure, purchase consideration and awareness around the world worth “over four times” the sponsorship’s cost. […] We crunched more data than I’ve ever seen. We had three separate media and consulting firms take a look at it and tell us what they thought it was worth. […] The way this was going to work over time, I would say that for the amount of money we were talking about, it was the biggest no-brainer I’ve seen.”
However, less than eighteen months after the official announcement of the deal, and even before the Chevrolet bowtie logo was supposed to appear on the official Manchester United shirts, General Motors announced it would withdraw Chevrolet from the European market. GM officials were quick to point out that Manchester United has a worldwide fan-base and that the English Premier League is the most watched football competition in the world, reaching an estimated 643 million households in 212 countries around the world. On top of that, the club’s regular appearance in the UEFA Champions League would still offer the brand the worldwide exposure it was looking for, as this competition is watched by 360 million households, some of which should be incremental to the EPL viewers.
Manchester United claims to have more than 650 million followers worldwide, 47 million of whom have liked the club’s official Facebook page, and the club is especially popular in Asia, as almost half of their viewers are in the Asia-Pacific region. With these kinds of numbers, even without a presence in Europe, the numbers should add up for Chevrolet, shouldn’t they?
Well, except for one little detail….
From the 2014 through the 2021/2022 season, the Chevrolet badge will appear on the Man U shirts. But the club’s performance in the 2013 season has been so disappointing that the club has failed to qualify for the UEFA Champions League for the first time since the 1996 season. As a result, instead of playing in marketing hotspots like Paris and Milan against other world famous clubs like FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain, they will be playing in the much less prominent Europa League. This means traveling to places like Dnipropetrovsk, Thessaloniki or Plzen to play against clubs that have virtually zero appeal or recognition outside of their home countries. You can imagine the difference between these competitions in worldwide viewers, and thus the awareness of the Chevrolet sponsorship.
Manchester United is expected to earn about $ 55 million for making the quarter finals of the Champions League this year. Not making it into the Champions League next year would have hurt their budget by a similar amount of money next year. Thankfully for them, the Chevrolet deal will kick in at $ 70 million, replacing this season’s Aon sponsorship deal of “just” $ 32 million. So Man U won’t be hurting too much financially for this year’s disastrous season, but I guess some folks at General Motors must be checking the contracts for escape clauses by now.
Oh, and don’t forget that last January, General Motors decided to replace the Chevrolet sponsoring of one of Manchester United’s main competitors F.C. Liverpool with that of GM’s UK-only brand Vauxhall. Can you guess which club is going to play in the UEFA Champions League next year?