Sporting trend: commercial partners

These days, even businesses with no sporting connections view football teams as an platform to project their brand on an international scale, as Vision finds out

It was one of the most eagerly-awaited fixtures of the new English Premier League season, and when Manchester United played Manchester City last month, an estimated 650m people watched worldwide. A staggering statistic - and it’s no surprise that the actual match is in some ways a sideshow to the real business taking place here: how brands can reach a global audience. 
So as United warmed up in training gear branded with the DHL logo, Gulf Bank were announcing that they had become Manchester City’s official affinity credit card bank partner, launching the first English football club credit card in the UAE. Tellingly, the second football club card followed one day later, and it had Manchester United on it: Emirates NBD becoming Manchester United Football Club’s exclusive financial partner in the UAE.
Whether these link-ups are fruitful for the companies involved remains to be seen. But it would be fascinating to know if any Manchester United fans genuinely sent their parcels via DHL rather than, say, FedEx, after having seen Wayne Rooney in his training kit. Does a Manchester City fan in Dubai really make decisions on his financial affairs based on which bank has his favourite team on their cards?
What is clearer is that the brands themselves believe there are tangible benefits. When DHL launched their advertising campaign, they were able to do so using Manchester United stars, and Ken Allen, CEO of DHL Express, noted that the partnership helped “our customers to connect emotionally with the DHL brand”. The CEO of First Gulf Bank, Andre Sayegh, talked of bringing customers “closer to their passion” and of reinforcing “FGB’s support in promoting healthy lifestyles in the communities where we operate.”

Sporting trend: commercial partners
Emirates NBD is the football team's exclusive financial partner in the UAE
All of which does make some kind of sense. Office equipment isn’t, for example, with the best will in the world, exciting. But when Epson became the “Official Office Equipment Partner Of Manchester United,” and launched a limited edition printer to celebrate, it made the company seem just a little more human and interesting. 
And that’s the fascinating subtext to these partnerships. The days in which a brand such as Chevrolet - United’s “official automotive partner” - could simply advertise their new car in the paper and on television are over. The increasingly diverse ways in which we consume our media means concentrating on the traditional routes to brand exposure can be extremely limiting. Which is why Manchester City also have, wait for it, an “official car battery partner for Thailand.” It might be a long way from Manchester, but for GS Battery, it’s a way to “build confidence in our products.” 
Particularly, as it turned out, when Manchester City beat their rivals so convincingly.