United agree new shirt deal with AIG worth £56m

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The Independent Football

Manchester United rejected the biggest sponsorship deal in world football to embrace an agreement that will not only promote a healthier image in America and Asia but, club officials insisted yesterday, usher in a new era of acceptance for the Glazer family at Old Trafford.

The price of avoiding controversy was put at £10m as United signed a four-year, £56.5m sponsorship deal with the insurance giant American International Group (AIG) just four days after withdrawing from negotiations with an online gambling company who had offered £65m-£70m to become only the third name on the club shirt. Mansion, backed by the Indonesian billionaire and former tobacco tycoon Putera Sampoerna, was deemed too risky a proposition by a club that is anxious not to alienate its support following the controversy of last summer's takeover by the Glazers, and so a company ranked third in the Forbes 2000 list won the right to replace Vodafone from next season.

"Let's be clear," the United chief executive David Gill said. "We passed up the opportunity to do the world's biggest shirt deal to do the right shirt deal, one that is right for Manchester United and one that underlines our position as the world's leading club." The contract may be worth less than the £15m-a-year Juventus receive from the Libyan oil company Tamoil but, at £14.125m a year, it represents the largest secured in English football, eclipsing Chelsea's contract with Samsung.

Though relatively unknown in England, a situation that its association with United will remedy, AIG is a vast organisation operating in 130 countries. It has more than 250,000 employees in Asia, where United have a fan base estimated at 40 million and have been active for more than a decade. "AIG are a big, blue chip, robust, global company," United's commercial director, Andy Anson, said. "We wanted a brand where there is very little controversy or negativity surrounding it but, more than that, somebody who could really help us on a global basis."

Bryan Glazer was involved in the AIG deal, which is for a guaranteed £56.5m, and United claim the figures confirm that the alarm caused by his father's takeover, which prompted Vodafone to sever their ties two years early, has now diffused.

Anson added: "When Vodafone pulled out, the takeover was still casting a shadow over everything that was going on here and that, coupled with the performances on the pitch, meant there was a lot of negativity. I honestly think that most people have got past that. It's a lot more positive environment than it was six to nine months ago."