GM signs 5-year deal to sponsor Manchester United

AP News
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Posted: May 31, 2012 12:09 AM
GM signs 5-year deal to sponsor Manchester United

General Motors is still working out how it will spend the money it is saving by scrapping ads on Facebook and pulling out of the Super Bowl.

But it has decided that at least some will go toward a five-year deal to make Chevrolet the official automotive sponsor of the popular British soccer club Manchester United.

GM formally announced the partnership on Thursday, saying that it's part of the plan to make Chevy an iconic brand across the globe.

The company wouldn't say how much the deal will cost, and Paul Edwards, its executive director for global marketing strategy, said it has nothing to do with GM's decisions earlier this month to scrap a $10 million advertising spend on Facebook and to pull out of next February's Super Bowl.

Manchester United claims to be the most popular sports franchise in the world. According to research done for the team, its fan base has doubled in the past five years to 659 million people, nearly one tenth of the world's population. Half of the fans are in Asia, especially in China, where GM sells more cars than in any other country.

While the deal should help Chevy globally, GM will keep strong ad campaigns and sponsorships in each of its regions, including sporting events and concerts in the U.S., Edwards said.

"That doesn't mean we're walking away from Major League Baseball here in the U.S., or the National Football League," he said. "We're still deeply engaged with those sports for the U.S. audience."

GM, he said, is still working out its 2012-2013 advertising campaigns, but it will have a heavy presence in the U.S. during the upcoming Summer Olympics being held in London.

"That is a U.S. media buy that we're leveraging because we see the value in terms of the audience we get," Edwards said.

The Detroit automaker said earlier this month that it would pull its advertising dollars from Facebook because they were not effective. GM said it will no longer pay for ads on the right side of Facebook pages, but it would continue to have pages for its cars, trucks and brands. Facebook doesn't charge for those pages, but GM spends millions on videos and other content for them.

The company also said it realizes the Super Bowl has a huge audience, but it pulled out after CBS, the network airing next year's game, raised prices. The Nielsen Co. said an estimated 111.3 million people in the U.S. watched the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots in this year's Super Bowl, slightly more viewers than in 2011.

GM, Edwards said, will spend the Super Bowl money in more places more often to attract a big audience. "We can invest that money and better engage our consumers in a deeper and sustained way," he said.

Shunning Facebook and the Super Bowl brought criticism of GM from the advertising and auto industries, and it left many wondering about GM's strategy. For instance, the Super Bowl audience would have been a perfect for the company, which will introduce new pickup trucks next year.

But Edwards said GM will reach truck customers with other events such as the Olympics and football and baseball games leading up to the Super Bowl that last a whole year rather than just one day.

GM still plans to spend $4.5 billion globally on advertising this year, the same amount as last year. Edwards said regional spending also will remain steady.

Manchester United got its fan base data from the Kantar research firm, which surveyed 54,000 people in 39 countries. A similar survey in 2007 indicated that Manchester United had 333 million fans, based on 27,000 responses.