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Manchester United most popular team in world with 659 million fans

May 29, 2012

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• Survey shows United have doubled fanbase in last five years
• Club says Alex Ferguson can overcome Manchester City challenge

They may have lost out to Chelsea in the chase for Europe’s hottest property, relinquished the league title with the last kick of the season to their bitter local rivals and crashed out in the group stages of the Champions League.

But, according to figures released by Manchester United on Tuesday, none of that has stopped them doubling their international fanbase in five years to a mind boggling 659 million and remaining the most popular club in world football.

A new survey, designed to underpin the global commercial push that has driven the club’s revenue growth in the Glazer era, has revealed that Manchester United have 659 million “followers” across the globe, an increase of 98% on the last comparable survey in 2007.

United are likely to point to the figures as proof that the local disquiet over the Glazer’s ownership model has not derailed global growth. Of the 659 million, 173 million of those who named the club unprompted as the team they “followed” were from the Middle East and Africa, 325 million from the Asia Pacific and 108 million in China. Only 1% of United’s fans are from the UK, the club said.

This summ er, the club is hoping to strike out into new markets by embarking on a marathon tour of South Africa and China. Crucial commercial deals with Nike and Aon are up for renewal from 2014. Meanwhile, the Premier League’s overseas TV rights are currently out to tender and the deal is expected to significantly improve on the current £1.4bn.

Unveiling the results Richard Arnold, Manchester United’s commercial director, insisted that the huge investment of other clubs, including Manchester City, would not impact on their success on or off the pitch.

“Sir Alex has done a fantastic job over 25 years of making sure we have a young, exciting, attacking team. I have every confidence that trend will continue. A successful model off the pitch allows a successful model on the pitch. Teams come and go. At the beginning of Sir Alex’s time it was Liverpool, we had a phase of Arsenal vying for contention, then Chelsea,” he said.

“This year, we finished our season in first pl ace and City finished winning on goal difference. Competitors come and go over time. The one thing that remains constant is Manchester United. That’s why you see this growth in terms of the number of fans and us continuing to be the most popular team in the most popular sport in the world.”

Recent financial results showed that the club had spent £42.7m on interest payments alone and a further £28.2m buying back bond notes over the previous nine months. Critics have argued that the Glazers’ leveraged model has left United without the firepower to compete in the transfer market.

“Sir Alex is the person who selects the team and long may that continue. It’s my responsibility to ensure we continue to grow the fanbase and that our off the pitch performance lives up to our performance on the pitch,” replied Arnold.

“I am doing everything in my power to make sure Manchester United continues to have a very strong off the pitch business that allows us to invest, li ke we did last summer.”

Arnold also defended the methodology of the survey, which was conducted by WPP-owned agency KantarSport. “The survey was independently conducted by one of the world’s leading agencies. Just the people we surveyed would fill the stadium at Liverpool, Chelsea or Manchester City. These are people who, unprompted, named Manchester United as the team they followed. There is a huge spectrum of what constitutes a follower,” said Arnold.

With a commercial team of 80 people based in its London office, United have pursued a strategy of selling regional sponsorship deals throughout the world and teaming up with local media and telecoms groups that can help grow its reach. That has fuelled growth in its commercial revenues to more than £100m a year.

Asked whether the results would be used to prove that domestic protests against the Glazers had inflicted little damage on its global brand, Arnold said: “What you see in this survey is that the bra nd image rankings show [people think we are] successful off the pitch, successful on the pitch, respected, global, exciting to watch. All these things show our family of followers is the biggest it’s ever been and goes from strength to strength.” Read More

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