Ian Herbert: Manchester United left with quandary over how to market 'bad guy' Wayne Rooney

It is in Asia, where stars with rough spots are an easier sell, that United will  be looking to push the Rooney image and make good on their rights

You don’t need a colourful imagination to know how Sir Alex Ferguson would feel about Mario Balotelli being the template from which Manchester United can set about making some serious money out of Wayne Rooney, to offset the many millions more they are paying out on his new salary.

Ferguson never gave full vent to his feelings about Balotelli – perhaps it was the risk of hubris which deterred him as Manchester City came like fury at United in the last years of his era – but the look on his face the day he discussed Roberto Mancini and his protégé grappling with each other on a Carrington training pitch told the story. What few appreciated at that time, a year or so back, was that as Balotelli’s notoriety reached its peak – or trough, according to your perspective – provoking one controversy after another, he was proving an incredible commercial hit in Asia. Sergio Aguero, Yaya Touré and Joe Hart were the predictable City players who would do as asked but none could hold a candle to the deals raked in by the Italian.

“The best example of bad guy perception,” is how one specialist in this field describes Balotelli to me and you only have to look at some of his promotional videos with Puma, for whom he is now a leading symbol, to see how controversy pays. One of the first boots made for him, a few months ago, was emblazoned with news headlines from his career to date, with “Why always Puma?” inked in big pink letters the predominant one.

This example suddenly matters a great deal to United, because sweating their prime asset commercially is their way of getting some payback for accepting the Rooney pay demands put before them by the player’s agent, Paul Stretford – who pockets a fifth of off-field earnings, if the percentages revealed in a Manchester Mercantile Court case four years ago still apply.

 

In return for making Rooney Britain’s best-paid footballer by a distance, United will have ensured that a more significant proportion of his image rights revenue now comes directly to them, rather than him. It means that self-interest, not affection, is driving the new search for Rooney endorsements which the United sales staff in London and New York will be embarking upon. And finding sponsors who are willing to deliver that payback is more complicated than signing up Japanese paint firms, Indonesian tyre exporters or Mister Potato – United’s official snack partner, in case you missed it. Securing image rights deals for an individual, rather than a team, is always trickier, because of the unpredictability attached, but it is doubly so with Rooney.

Experts experienced in selling Premier League player image rights will tell you that when there is a controversy or marital indiscretion in a star’s past there can be problems in this country. “After what’s happened in the past it’s difficult with Rooney in England,” one tells me. Before the conflagration in his personal life created by allegations of assignations with call girl Jennifer Thompson in 2010, Rooney’s endorsements included EA Sports and Coca-Cola. Both contracts were subsequently not renewed.

Rooney has come through the most rigorous selection process in modern sport

It is in Asia, where stars with rough spots are an easier sell, that United will be looking to push the Rooney image most profitably, perhaps observing in the course of doing so that Chelsea’s John Terry has a following over there which is outstripping his commercial worth here.

We are talking about how Rooney will be positioned in a sales dossier, when it all comes down to it – however unedifying that might be to those for whom endorsements were once no more complicated than Kevin Keegan splashing on Brut and Pat Jennings eating Kelloggs’ Frosties. And since the new football money game is what it is, there is no point pretending that Rooney being promoted here is entirely positive.

David Beckham has the photogenic qualities which allowed him to take home around £40,000 a day for endorsing brands including Armani, Adidas, Samsung and Diet Coke during 2011. The Messi brand, which is about homespun innocence, results in him benefiting from a staggering €25m (£20.6m) a year because of Barcelona’s policy of claiming no image rights money as their own. (At Real Madrid, it is split 50:50 between player and club. Manchester City’s contracts are structured in such a way that the club takes it all.)

Building on Rooney’s current Samsung deal means a sales pitch which draws on his fundamental appeal: raw, rough-edged unpredictability, even if that does entail promoting traits in their star player that the manager would like to see in the background. (Boot deals are generally excluded from image rights work.)

The other question for United is how many new endorsements are practical. One worry has been the sheer lack of available dates in the football calendar for Rooney to appear clutching the energy drink or computer console which he will be promoting.

Ferguson would certainly have had an answer to this quandary, given what Rooney said in court when the player’s former agency, Proactive, was pursuing £4.3m lost to it after Stretford left the company and took Rooney with him. Citing Nike, Coca-Cola, EA Sports and Tiger beer as his four affiliates, Rooney said Ferguson had imposed a limit of five endorsements on him. “And to be honest, I’m probably doing the max,” Rooney told the court. Stretford told the court that Ferguson was known “for his attention to detail”. That didn’t just mean training pitch detail, the agent explained. “He believes the priority of any player should be his football. I’m not naming any names but I think he has experience where commercial opportunities have got out of control…”

If Ferguson was still in control at Old Trafford, Rooney would be long gone and these commercial calculations would be academic. But how, from that place where he now resides, does Ferguson feel about all of these calculations? You don’t need a colourful imagination to know.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas