Branding the World of Sports

AIG loses their shirt…literally

Posted by ZA on March 18, 2009

The news for troubled insurance giant AIG has not been kind lately.  When the most powerful man in the free world is angry with you, that is never a good thing.  And President Barrack Obama did not mince words this week when he said he was angry at AIG over their handing out bonuses to top executives.

So how does a brand respond to the crisis?  How is AIG responding to this current crisis?
It appears AIG is doing a whole lot of nothing.  This article from AdAge discussed what PR steps AIG could take to help their current situation.  Even the PR experts admitted this situation is going to be extremely tough for AIG to rebound from, because money spent on a PR campaign to win back consumer hearts and minds will likely be viewed as more excess.  AIG did not respond to questions sent by AdAge on the story.

Making it worse for AIG is that while they take their duck and hide approach to handling this crisis, one of their biggest marketing opportunities just ran away.  News came out that AIG is losing its shirt sponsorship with soccer club Manchester United.  The deal which AIG has held since 2006 will not be renewed after the 2010 season is done.  While on the surface it might seem great for AIG to rid themselves of a $25+ million dollars per year team sponsorships, it is a big loss for AIG.

Manchester United is one of the most popular football (i.e.- soccer) clubs in the world.  Man U jerseys (or “kits” as they are called in soccer) are worn by their fans across England, Europe, Asia and the United States.  Wikipedia reports that Manchester United has over 330 million supporters worldwide, which is almost 5% of the Earth’s population.  Assuming it is true, that means that one out of every twenty people on this planet count themselves as a support of this soccer team.  That means there are millions upon millions of people walking with Man U jerseys with AIG on the front.

Is it worth $25 million dollars per year for AIG to get that type of brand exposure? I think so; and some smart company is going to jump at the chance to pay Man U even more in their next jersey sponsorship deal.  CNN reports that Indian conglomerate Sahara and Saudi Telecom are already interested and I bet a few American corporations give it a close look.  Nike, are you listening?

So AIG is not saving $25 million dollars per year, they are losing brand exposure on a global scale.  The richest club in all of professional sports, with the largest fan following in sports, is wearing your company name on their chest; and you give that up?  Makes no sense to me, it seems like they could have cut corners on some other marketing deals in order to maintain the relationship with Manchester United.  But alas, it is just another blunder in a series of missteps that AIG has made lately.

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