Premier League telecasts reach more than 200 countries and 600 million homes, according to The Independent, a London newspaper. The league estimates that almost 80 million people around the world typically watch a match.
Clement added that Manchester United has three times as many fans in China as it does in Europe. This worldwide appeal maps to Aon's value proposition of providing risk management services to global organizations and to the company's goal to build its brand in Asia, where it is relatively unknown. “There are no sponsorship opportunities in the world [that work] the way this does,” Clement said.
The Manchester United announcement appears to be the start of a major branding push for Aon, which has had a low profile of late—or as low a profile as a company with its name on the third-tallest building in Chicago can have.
“The last four years [our focus was on] operation improvement, clarifying our position in the marketplace and our brand,” Clement said. Aon spent $484,720 on advertising in the U.S. in 2008, according to Nielsen Co. Direct competitor Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. spent $705,885.
Aon does not currently have an advertising agency of record and declined to discuss whether it had plans to run ads promoting its fledgling affiliation with Manchester United.
David Prosperi, Aon's VP-global public relations, said, “It is going to create enormous opportunities to entertain customers and prospects not only by sponsoring Manchester United's annual global tours but also through the "Skills and Drills' programs they will be launching this year in the U.S.”
Al Ries, chairman of branding consultancy Ries & Ries, questioned the Aon-Manchester United partnership. He said that as a b-to-b brand, Aon's audience is much narrower than the broad audience reached by professional soccer. “I think it would make more sense to have Coca-Cola or Nike as a sponsor, something that has more universal appeal,” he said.
Jim Gregory, CEO of branding consultancy CoreBrand, sees the deal as potentially valuable, particularly since Aon is trying to expand its presence internationally. “Manchester United is just a great global brand,” he said.
The same cannot be said for the Aon brand, according to CoreBrand's proprietary BrandPower rankings. The average brand equity—the percentage that brand contributes to a company's market capitalization—for companies in the financial and insurance sector amounts to 5.63%. CoreBrand calculates that Aon's brand equity is -0.22%, meaning that the lack of familiarity and favorability of the Aon brand actually subtracts from the company's market cap.
“That's phenomenally bad. It's rare that a company doesn't have positive value,” said Gregory, who sees a strong upside to Aon's affiliation with Manchester United.
Simon White, head of sponsorship for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at McCann Worldgroup's Momentum Worldwide, said that to maximize the sponsorship, Aon must market the deal wisely, incorporating Manchester United into its brand the way that Accenture has aligned itself with Tiger Woods.
“In my opinion, that's best-in- class,” White said. “I was on the Accenture Web site this morning, and you don't have to go to the sponsorship part of www.accenture.com to find Tiger Woods. It led with Tiger Woods. He's actually become part of the fabric of what the company is.”
White said continued excellence from Manchester United is also essential for Aon to get the most from the deal. Foreign investment in competing Premier League clubs is helping to level the playing field, meaning that in years to come Manchester United may not be as dominant.
In the past, with the millions provided by Aon, Manchester United could just open its checkbook to attract the players needed to continue its winning ways. But now, because the club is heavily leveraged, some of that money may have to go to debt service, White said.
BtoB Editor Ellis Booker contributed to this story.