Monday, March 16, 2009

The perils of sponsorship - will the Samsungs have the last laugh over the AIGs?

I am an occasional follower of football (soccer) in England, and I find it amusing when someone raises the occasional complaint that English football is not English enough. While the complaint is usually aired when a non-English manager comes to town (most of the leading managers in English football are not English), you can also, if you wish, complain about foreign players on English football teams, and foreign owners of English football teams.

But I rarely, if ever, hear complaints about foreign sponsorships of English football teams.

It seems like a wonderful idea at the time, and not just in England. There are many large city governments in my own country that dream of the riches that will accrue to them if they grant naming rights to their city facilities, or let some company be the exclusive sponsor of something or another. My late grandmother would be horrified if she knew that some schools were signing exclusive deals with soft drink manufacturers - the schools get money or some other compensation, while the soft drink company keeps the competition out of the school.

English football practices sponsorship to the extreme. American football and baseball teams may have a swoosh here or there, but you can tell that the team is the Redskins or the Dodgers or whoever. NASCAR certainly believes in sponsorship, but you can often detect that Jeff Gordon or Dale Earnhardt Jr. or whoever is somewhere beneath all the ads. But if you take a look at a Chelsea or Liverpool or Manchester United jersey, there's no way for the casual fan to know that they're watching Chelsea or Liverpool or Manchester United. Instead, you see the Samsungs, in the case of Chelsea, or the Carlsbergs, in the case of Liverpool.

Or, in the case of Manchester United, AIG.

Now perhaps you've heard of AIG recently, and not in the sports pages. This article ran today:

Key lawmakers are calling for the government to crack down on American International Group after learning the bailed-out insurance giant is going ahead with plans to pay $165 million dollars in bonuses to its executives.

Though AIG Chairman Edward Liddy claims his hands are contractually tied, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said Monday he's not convinced.

(An aside: while I clearly believe that companies have the right to pay bonuses, I'd love to see the bonus calculator that determined that AIG executives were eligible for bonuses. I confess that I haven't examined AIG's financials, but if AIG met its financial goals last year, then I'm an Olympian.)

And you know you're company's in trouble when the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, in a rare interview, says that he's angry about your firm:

Bernanke's optimism didn't take away from his anger over AIG's spending of $165 million in bonuses.

He told CBS' "60 Minutes" Sunday that out of all the events in the last 18 months, the federal government's intervention with AIG makes him the angriest, saying the company made "unconscionable bets."

The ironic part is that while AIG is the poster child for financial failure, Manchester United is the poster child for football success. Last season Manchester United won the Premier League, Champions League, Club World Cup, and probably some other awards here and there, and they are performing well again this year.

But the problems of Manchester United's principal sponsor aren't confined to its American home:

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) announced...that it has launched a "preliminary inquiry" into the UK operations of AIG Financial Products, which is owned by America's American International Group (AIG).

And Manchester United itself is affected:

AIG announced that it would not renew its sponsorship deal with Manchester United Football Club when the contract runs out in 2010.

Ironically, if Manchester United wanted to be associated with a good brand, the best sponsor for Manchester United would be...Manchester United.

But no...there's money to be made.
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