Manchester United defend sponsorship strategy

Premier League leaders have been criticised

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The Independent Football

Manchester United have denied they are diluting their brand by negotiating so many sponsorship deals.

In the space of an hour last week, United revealed agreements with Chinese duo Wahaha and China Construction Bank, then on Friday they had an Old Trafford launch for another three-year partnership with Japanese paint manufacturer Kansai Paint.

Such deals, underpinned by the massive seven-year £357million shirt sponsorship contract with US car giant Chevrolet, which is due to commence in 2014, are the reason why United are posting such massive commercial figures.

In their most recent annual results, to June 30 2012, United posted a 13.7% increase in commercial income to £117.6m.

And the figure will rise this year as United marketing manager Jonathan Rigby rejects the notion that United have reached their limit.

"There is nothing of what we know of our own brand that suggests that is the case," he said.

"We don't see that at all. We see an increase in growth in the vibrancy of our brand.

"In fact we see the opposite. We see a fanbase that is growing, we see engagement levels growing, we see viewing figures continuing to grow."

Indeed, Rigby does not feel United have come even close to maximising their potential.

"We don't know how far we can go," said Rigby.

"We certainly don't think we are reaching a limit.

"It is a model that is working very well. The evidence I see every day is that our partners get a huge amount and are all able to get their own part of Manchester United."

Others are starting to follow the Red Devils' lead though.

Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis has spoken of his admiration for United's commercial expertise, whilst both Real Madrid and Barcelona are amongst those who seem to be embarking on the same strategy.

"We should always be conscious that other clubs will try to emulate or copy what we do," said Rigby.

"That is what keeps us continuing to go forward and investing significantly more in this area than anyone else.

"The other thing is that we have a great story to tell. We have a huge global fanbase and a very successful business model that helps us to finance the big players to keep us at the top."

It is a matter of record that United have never finished lower than third in the Premier League era, enough to qualify for the Champions League under its present criteria.

Yet Liverpool's present situation and Arsenal's precarious one is proof that such lofty status may not always be preserved, which would raise question marks over the loyalty of that worldwide fan base, which United estimate at 700million.

But Rigby does not have any concerns.

"We will always strive to be right at the top of our game but we feel the love of our fans for the club goes deeper; into its history, the success and the players, both now and in the past," he said.

"Of course, success is important, but there its lots of evidence to suggest the fans will be with us forever."