Inside Manchester United's $225m shirt sponsorship deal (2024)

By the summer of 2023, Manchester United had endured a decade of strife.

Without a Premier League title since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013, United had reached the Champions League quarter-finals only twice in those 10 years and were onto their fifth permanent manager in Erik ten Hag. The club appeared to be up for the sale and their historic Old Trafford stadium and Carrington training facilities both required vital modernisation.

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Against this backdrop, United ventured into the market for a new front-of-shirt sponsor.

The Germany-based software firm TeamViewer announced in 2022 it did not intend to renew a five-year agreement with United worth £47million (£37m at current rates) per annum, which had only begun in 2021. By December 2022, United and TeamViewer reached an agreement that allowed the club to buy back the rights to their front-of-shirt sponsorship.

The search took Victoria Timpson, United’s CEO of alliances and partnerships, to San Diego in California, where she asked Don McGuire, the chief marketing officer (CMO) of Qualcomm, a U.S. technology firm and an existing United partner, if it might step up to the plate. After months of negotiations, a deal was agreed: a three-year contract worth $225million.

United’s new home kit, unveiled today, features Snapdragon, a Qualcomm subsidiary, as the most prominent sponsor on a jersey that will be worn in matches by both the club’s men’s and women’s teams. Snapdragon, in case you are wondering, produces the chips or processors found in an estimated three billion devices globally, across smartphones, PCs, virtual reality, gaming and cars.

In an interview with The Athletic, CMO McGuire reveals:

  • Snapdragon has an option to extend for two further years beyond the initial three-year agreement.
  • The $75million annual sponsorship is not contingent on United qualifying for the Champions League, and they will not be penalised if they spend consecutive seasons outside what is Europe’s elite club competition.
  • Snapdragon will have the option to place a charity’s name on the front of United’s jerseys for one game per season to promote good causes.
  • The Snapdragon CMO stated it would make a “lot of sense” and would be “positive” for the Premier League to take one-off regular season games involving United outside of England to key markets such as the U.S.
  • Snapdragon would like to host United’s women’s team on a tour of the United States, including a potential exhibition match against NWSL side San Diego Wave, who play at the Snapdragon Stadium in California.

Speaking from his office in San Diego, McGuire explains how and why Snapdragon believed United, for all their flaws in recent times, remained a hugely appealing club to sponsor. The firm, which also sponsors the Mercedes Formula 1 motor-racing team, enlisted the support of CAA Sports agency to help analyse across leagues and teams in multiple sports, and also looked closely at cricket.

“Football is obviously the biggest sport in the world,” McGuire says. “That provides great reach, and the premium football is Premier League.

“We could have done a deal with the Premier League centrally. We could have done a deal just with F1 versus going in at the team level. But philosophically, teams are where passion is. People love teams, they love drivers, they love players. They don’t necessarily care about the league. The league is just there to set rules and put on a show. So, we chose Manchester United for several reasons. One is scale: United have 1.1billion fans worldwide.”

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United have long used this number, including when the club pitched to investors including petrochemicals firm INEOS and the Qatari Sheikh Jassim during a strategic review that culminated in INEOS head Sir Jim Ratcliffe acquiring 25 per cent of the club and securing control of their football and business operations. Does McGuire actually believe United have 1.1billion fans? And if so, then how is a fan defined in this case?

GO DEEPERExplained: What INEOS' investment means for Manchester United

“You look at jersey sales worldwide,” he says. “They sell more than anybody. You look at engagement on social media. We broke it down by country; 253million in China. China is their biggest fanbase, which is a really important market for me. India is their second largest fanbase and then the U.S. is third.

“It’s about the global reach of the brand and the franchise in markets that I care about, because Snapdragon is a global brand. So I need to think about these things outside of the UK, outside of the competition between Man City and Man United. That’s great drama, great fodder and great understory. But I’m looking big. I’m looking global. What is going to give me best bang for my buck for a return on investment? That’s how we narrowed in on Manchester United.”

McGuire admits that the financial commitment to this deal required internal persuasion at Qualcomm.

“I was pushing a boulder up a hill a little bit, because we’ve never done anything this big before,” he says. “The equivalent of a broadcast exposure for a front-of-shirt partner for Manchester United in any given match could be as high as a Super Bowl advertisem*nt. So imagine 40-plus matches a year. ‘You can give me hundreds of millions of dollars for me to go and just advertise around the world, or we can do this for much more cost-effective numbers’.”

This deal will be among the last secured by Timpson, the latest of a string of high-profile United executives leaving Old Trafford following the INEOS investment. She will be gone within three months, following the departures of the club’s former chief executive Richard Arnold, interim chief executive Patrick Stewart, chief financial officer Cliff Baty, chief communications and marketing executive Ellie Norman and football director John Murtough.

GO DEEPERRichard Arnold's Manchester United legacy tied to Ten Hag, Ronaldo's exit and Greenwood

One of Timpson’s roles in securing this deal was to ensure the tumult at the club did not impact United commercially. Her team managed to avoid any punitive clauses if United do not qualify for the Champions League. United’s kit deal with Adidas, for instance, involves a reduction if the club spend consecutive seasons outside of that competition.

“Integrity is really important to us,” adds McGuire. “There’s several ways to win. You can win on the pitch. We want to be with the winner… We knew United were taking steps right to redirect football operations to move them into a different place. And we were confident in that for the long haul.”

Last week, The Athletic revealed United are considering selling the naming rights to either a refurbished Old Trafford or a new stadium. This interview was conducted before that report was published but McGuire was asked, in light of the fact Snapdragon already sponsors a stadium in San Diego, whether it would consider a similar approach with United. McGuire explains that Snapdragon is already assisting with improving wi-fi within Old Trafford and at Carrington, where he says connectivity had been “lacklustre” because the training complex is in the countryside, south-west of Manchester.

“If we want to go deeper, it’s really going to depend on the results that we see,” McGuire says when asked about naming rights. “And do we believe we could get anything more out of it? Because there is a law of diminishing returns with all things.

“I’ll give you a perfect example. We’ve expanded our Mercedes Formula 1 relationship into the Formula 1 Academy. We think it makes sense for us to support the mission of the Formula 1 Academy, which is to produce the first female Formula 1 driver eventually. So expanding and wrapping our brand around Doriane Pin, who’s the Mercedes, 20-year-old young woman in second place right now in Formula 1 Academy, we think that is a good thing for the brand.

Inside Manchester United's $225m shirt sponsorship deal (4)

Pin prepares to drive in Barcelona in June (Pauline Ballet/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

“If there’s that opportunity with Manchester United beyond front-of-shirt, if we believe there’s more to be nurtured and more to be farmed out of the relationship, we’ll certainly always look at that.”

Discussions may be possible during United’s upcoming pre-season tour, during which they will face Real Betis at the Snapdragon Stadium in San Diego on July 31. United also played against Wrexham in the same stadium last summer. The appetite for United in the U.S. is underlined by the fact their tour match against Liverpool, in South Carolina on August 3, sold out the 77,000-capacity stadium where it will be played within 15 minutes.

Football’s world governing body FIFA is currently reviewing its policies in a move that may allow competitive regular-season domestic fixtures to be played outside a home country. This has led executives from both NBC (which broadcasts the Premier League in the U.S.) and CBS (U.S. broadcasters of the Champions League) to throw their weight behind the idea of playing one-off matches in the States.

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As United’s front-of-shirt partner, would this mean more positive exposure for Snapdragon?

“Absolutely,” McGuire says. “Taking the NFL model and the MLB model, where they go abroad and they play regular-season games, that count towards their victories and their defeats. For the Premier League and European football in general to look at that, it makes a lot of sense.

Inside Manchester United's $225m shirt sponsorship deal (5)

United’s men line up to face Wrexham at Snapdragon Stadium in July 2023 (Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images)

“With global football being so expansive and our brand being there no matter where in the world, it benefits me, so that’s fantastic. We just got the newest MLS (Major League Soccer) franchise here in San Diego, and they’ll be playing at Snapdragon Stadium (when the 2025 season begins early next year), so we’re super-happy about that. With David Beckham’s investment in Inter Miami and with the arrival of Lionel Messi and the World Cup in Mexico, the U.S. and Canada in 2026, we’ve got so much momentum. Then you have women’s football and the level of the U.S. national team and NWSL; the San Diego Wave also play in Snapdragon Stadium.

“Building on that momentum and capturing that and then deciding, ‘Let’s put some actual regular-season matches in these other locations’ I think it is a positive for the league, whether it’s just the Premier League or European football in general. I think it’s amazing. It’s just about expansion of audience, right? So I think it’s great.”

United’s women’s team have never played an exhibition match in the States, but this summer their fellow Women’s Super League sides Arsenal and Chelsea are travelling over to play against each other and face NWSL sides Washington Spirit and Gotham.

McGuire, grinning, says: “We would love to have the Manchester United women’s team play San Diego Wave in Snapdragon Stadium. That would be phenomenal. We’ve actually talked about that. So we’d love to make that happen. I think the Wave would be totally down to do that as well. So yes, yes, yes and yes, in answer to that.”

(Top photo: Snapdragon)

Inside Manchester United's $225m shirt sponsorship deal (6)Inside Manchester United's $225m shirt sponsorship deal (7)

Adam Crafton covers football for The Athletic. He previously wrote for the Daily Mail. In 2018, he was named the Young Sports Writer of the Year by the Sports' Journalist Association. His debut book,"From Guernica to Guardiola", charting the influence of Spaniards in English football, was published by Simon & Schuster in 2018. He is based in London.

Inside Manchester United's $225m shirt sponsorship deal (2024)

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