What Manchester United's new £235m sponsorship deal with TeamViewer means for the club, fans and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

'The National' spoke to United’s managing director Richard Arnold about football's future under cloud of Covid and why the new sponser was chosen

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Europa League - Round of 16 First Leg - Manchester United v AC Milan - Old Trafford, Manchester, Britain - March 11, 2021 General view of the crest of Manchester United inside the stadium before the match REUTERS/Phil Noble - UP1EH3B19QGKZ/File Photo
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Manchester United announced on Friday that their new shirt sponsor is remote software company TeamViewer, in a deal worth £235 million ($326m) over five seasons starting from next season.

Describe how covid has affected Manchester United economically?

The pandemic has been an incredibly difficult time for everyone around the world and it has been no different for United. It’s the biggest economic recession since records began. We had three months of not playing any games and then moving to behind closed doors with no fans.

It has been difficult but the club has been conscious of how much more difficult it has been for others. That has underpinned a lot of the work that the club has done, whether giving away £5 million of meals to the local community, supporting contract and casual workers – we didn’t take furlough money or government loans.

We also worked with fan clubs across the world, but it has been incredibly damaging for everyone and our industry in particular. For clubs who are dependent on gate income it has been even harder.

At United, we work hard to make sure we have a sustainable economic model for the club. We can look to the future with confidence and that has stood us in good stead relative to others.

We have been fortunate to have some amazing partners who have stood by the club through these difficult times and have the economic strength to do the things that we’ve talked about. So it has been difficult but we have been fortunate not to be as affected as some other clubs.

Looking beyond United, what picture do you see economically in football?

Tough – and that’s the case across Europe. I know the whole industry is desperate to beat the virus and to get back to full stadiums.

How did this shirt deal come about? Did you expect Chevrolet to continue?

We’re systematic about our processes. We’re resilient – you can see that on the pitch with the team coming from behind to win games. Off it, our team have had to change. In the past we would get to know potential partners really well face to face. All of the work on the process this time has had to be done remotely using video conferencing from bedrooms and kitchens. We’ve put together an exciting partnership.

Was there as much interest as the last time you went to market for a shirt sponsor?

We had double-digit participants in our process. Manchester United is very fortunate to be able to choose a partner – TeamViewer were not the highest bidder. What they bring to us is beyond money.

TeamViewer is an incredibly exciting company; they have grown incredibly quickly. They’re strong and innovative. The products they offer make life a lot easier in a digital environment. They have been a strong business which is why they are in a position to secure future growth. We’ll be able to bring products to the fans in future which will be exciting and interesting. Some of the technology which TeamViewer is using is right at the cutting edge and they’ve made acquisitions using AR and VR. We want to be strong in the digital space.

Why are TeamViewer interested in Manchester United?

There are a couple of things. They’ll be able to connect with a billion really passionate fans around the world. That will translate into people being interested and excited about their services.

The second point is the track record we have in helping exciting and fast growing companies. Look at AON or the work we did in making Chevrolet No 1 in China. They’re an amazing company. And the work we've done with adidas – putting them No 1 in football.

As we got to know TeamViewer, we became excited about what will be achievable.

You mention China. Outside of the UK, what are the main markets globally which the club are looking to expand in?

We're genuinely global. We don’t think in terms of market. There is a sense of community and tribalism among our fans wherever they are. There are nearly 300 million fans in China so that makes it an important place for us. We’re popular in terms of being number one on social media platforms in China as we are on platforms that are more familiar to people living in the west.

The USA – Matt Busby took his team there in the 1950s by steamship and there are incredible numbers of fans who live there. Fans in India have a big engagement with the club.

We’re seeing engagement on social media with every single country in the world.

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You mention a billion fans. How do you arrive at that figure and how is it measured?

It’s one of the biggest surveys of its kind. It has been done the same way for decade after decade, audited and published in our listed accounts. It’s a resilient method which will stand toe to toe with any consumer survey conducted by any global organisation in the world. It is extrapolated from a simple question: ‘which football team do you support?’ Unprompted. That, extrapolated from a number of samples, gives us 1.1 billion.

And how do you monetise that support? Is it primarily through sponsorship and commercial deals because for years – and I’m going back to the 90s – the club really struggled

I’m no sure that that is the right way of looking at it. The two things we do are, firstly, to engage fans, seeking to connect them ever closer to the club. What’s different from the past is that the club is able, now, to literally be in the back pocket of every fan every day via mobile phones. The amount of time the people spend in a digital environment is phenomenal and our fans are no different.

The demographic of our fans is heavily skewed to the young population and heavily skewed to users of digital devices relative to the general population.

What does sponsorship mean? It means that Manchester United have a strong, sustainable business model. We can weather the storm as we have seen with the pandemic. That’s an important part of making sure that we’re really strong on the pitch.

The second aspect is being able to offer people, companies and services directly to fans. If you look at our most recent quarterly results you’ll see that our digital footprint and connection translated into record commercial results in the last 12 months.

Have United earmarked any destinations for pre-season tours in the next few years. We understand India was to be visited in 2020.

The touring tradition goes back to the 50s and it’s an incredibly important part of our engagement. The plans in the year affected by Covid did include India and we had got to the point of being about to announce promoters for India.

The USA and China have been important but as we sit here at the moment, the first priority is to get to a point here we can get to full stadia. That looks like it will be the case next season with the trends we see and the science from the government.

It is very important for fans to be back. When we have that, we can start to think about visiting fans around the world where the family live.

Can Ole Gunnar Solskjaer expect to be backed with some of the money from these sponsorship deals in the close season so he can strength his team?

Ole is a fantastic manager and I’m fortunate to know him as a person and to see the work he is doing with the club. He’s an amazing guy who is loved by board and fan alike. It goes without saying that any manager of Manchester United will be backed.

That’s the important aspect of our business model. As for the specifics of one transfer window verses another, Ed [Woodward] gave some guidance on that on our quarterly call and I don't have a huge amount to add to that.

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