Another U.S. insurance company to sponsor Manchester United

By A. James Memmott

June 7, 2009 at 8:11am

Aon is in; AIG is out.

The most popular shirt in the world will be sporting a new logo beginning next year.

Soccer-giant Manchester United announced this week that Aon Corporation, a Chicago-based insurance company, has bought the naming rights to the team’s shirts.

Terms of the four-year deal were not announced, but media reports peg the arrangement at $32.5 million for four years.

Aon, which has offices in more than 120 countries, replaces another U.S.-based insurer, American International Group.

That company had AIG, its three-letter logo, on United’s jerseys for four years at a reported cost of about $22.5 million a year.

Given its financial troubles and the fact it has received billions in bailout funds from the U.S. government, AIG announced earlier this year that it would not renew its arrangement with United.

In announcing the new deal, Gregory C. Case, president and CEO of Aon, stressed that the connection with United was a way of reinforcing Aon’s brand “on a global basis.”

United, which plays in England’s Premier League, has 330 million fans worldwide, Case said.

Sales of the team’s shirts have reached 6 million a year. This would give Aon, 6 million “walking billboards” annually, he noted.

Beyond Europe, United has particularly strong name recognition and support in Korea (one of its players, Ji-Sung Park is from that country), China and Japan.

Since 2005, a holding company headed by Florida businessman Malcolm United has had the controlling stake in United. The company also owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the National Football League.

United has finished atop the Premier League’s for the last three seasons. It won the prestigious Champions League - a tournament involving the top clubs in Europe - in 2008.

This year, United made it to the finals of the Champions League, losing 2-0 to FC Barcelona last week.

In winning, Barcelona was a walking billboard of a non-commercial kind.

Rather than selling the rights to its shirt, the club pays UNICEF, the United Nations charity that aids children, a reported $2 million a year for the right to place the UNICEF logo on its shirt.

“We, the people of FC Barcelona … are very proud to donate our shirt to the children of the world,” the club president said in 2006 when the arrangement was announced.

Other top clubs in European have, like United, used their shirts for commercial purposes.

In the Premier League, Chelsea is sponsored by Samsung electronics, Liverpool by Carlsberg beer and Arsenal by Emirates, the airline of the United Arab Emirates.

In Italy’s top league, Inter Milan players wear the name of Pirelli, the tire maker, and Juventus advertises Fiat Group’s New Holland construction.

Real Madrid, a top club in Spain, is sponsored by bwin, the world leader in online betting.

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