Let no one say that Manchester United are struggling to attract top names to the club. On Tuesday during a conference call with investors, executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward reportedly trumpeted United’s recent signing: Nissin.
OK, Nissin is not a commanding central defender but a leading Japanese purveyor of instant noodles. (Note: Not Nissan, the car company. That’s different.) But who do you think is covering Angel Di Maria’s wages? Ordinary fans in Manchester paying to attend games at Old Trafford and possibly buying the matchday magazine and a pie?
That was the old days, before transfer fees and wages became so galactic that the only way to keep pace with inflation is to go international and get friendly with the likes of Nissin Foods Group, the Official Global Noodle Partner of Manchester United. Not to be confused with the Malaysian brand Mamee, which in 2011 was named Official Noodles Partner of Manchester United for Asia, Oceania and Middle East.
Louis van Gaal could use another defensive midfielder, but United have good options, noodle-wise.
“Nissin Foods Group will pursue the various possibilities that food promises and bring forth deliciousness with dreams as we strive to become the ‘Earth Food Creator’,” says the press release, no doubt bringing reassurance to season-ticket holders skeptical about Van Gaal’s predilection for a 3-4-3.
Acutely aware of their overseas appeal, United have occasionally been accused of buying Asian players for marketing purposes — Dong Fangzhuo, anyone? Anyone? — so partnering with Asian businesses is a logical and simple step.
Numerous and tenuous tie-ins have long been the norm in U.S. sports: NASCAR, for example, had an official mayonnaise. The English Premier League is rocket-fueled by its insatiable quest for lucre and clubs eagerly climb into bed with more or less anyone waving a check book, often including gambling, fast food and alcoholic drink companies. Yet rapacious marketing still grates in Britain, where understatement is a national trait. Brazen commercialism is seen as vulgar and absurd, and many fans are deeply ambivalent about the sport’s globalization.
Until relatively recently, deals in Britain did not venture far beyond having the name of a local company emblazoned across a club’s jersey. Even the country’s pioneering role in uniform sponsorship was initially hesitant, as minor-league Kettering Town became the first team to introduce the concept in 1976, only for the English Football Association immediately to demand the words “Kettering Tyres” be removed from jerseys.
The club took off the final four letters, sneakily claiming that the “T” stood for “Town”. It didn’t work, but the door had been opened. Still, even in the early 1980s, as the Financial Times recalled, British television companies refused to broadcast teams with sponsored jerseys.
United, controlled by Americans since 2005, swallowed any lingering sense of British reserve long ago. It was certainly gone by the time United asked a Knight of the Realm to attend a press conference “to welcome the club’s newest global partner, Mister Potato, to the United family”.
United’s official website lists 28 official sponsors and their names and origins are as sure a sign of the English Premier League’s prosperity and international appeal as United’s squad list. They range from AON, Nike, and Chevrolet to the Hong Kong Jockey Club, Kansai Paint and Globacom (official integrated telecommunications partner of Manchester United for Nigeria, Ghana and the Republic of Benin).
United is a lesser force on the field these days, but it is still Europe’s corporate champion. And since its jersey deal with Chevrolet is worth a staggering $80 million a year on average, how long will it be before owners in the NFL, NBA and MLB use their noodle and decide that uniform sponsorship is one lucrative marketing technique that Americans could adopt from the Brits?