Branding the bottom line for United

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 July, 2007, 12:00am

'A good reputation is more valuable than money,' Latin writer Syrus wrote. But at Manchester United, the two go hand in hand. From a business perspective, Manchester United's four-city East Asia tour could be termed brand building. Culturally, the tour is also about adding a layer of the aura surrounding the team.

During the team's stop in Macau, where they won 6-0 over Shenzhen Xiangxue last night, they stayed at the still unopened Venetian Resort and Hotel, which cost more than US$2.4 billion. That the Red Devils were guests at such a palatial casino only added to the notion of a brand larger than life.

In 2006, Forbes valued Manchester United at US$1.37 billion. Future Brand, a brand strategy and design consultancy, in 2004 evaluated Manchester United's brand at Euro288 million (HK$3.11 billion).

According to Antonio Mello, a professor of finance at the University of Wisconsin who specialises in the valuation of football clubs, Manchester United is on the right track.

'The two most important initiatives are [to] increase audiences in the English League and the Champions League [and to] organise tours to play in Asian tournaments against both national squads and the best local team,' Mello said.

The former has, in part, been assured in the substantial television rights deal between Asian countries and the English Premier League. In Hong Kong alone, NOW TV's broadband service has paid US$200 million for a three-year deal to the EPL rights. The latter criterion has been on display for the past week.

Against Shenzhen, United stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney gave fans their money's worth. After Ryan Giggs opened the scoring, Rooney soon sent one into the top corner and Nani, playing in his first United match, made the score 3-0 by half-time. Next it was John O'Shea, but the loudest cheers of the night were reserved for Ronaldo, who scored off a pass from Rooney. By the time Chris Eagles made it 6-0, Rooney and Ronaldo were on the bench.

'I think that for spells of the game we played some good football ... no injuries which was important,' Sir Alex Ferguson said. 'We're satisfied with the performance and the result.' After joining the team on Sunday, China's Dong Fangzhou, who was not expected to play, came on as a substitute early in the second half.

'He's got tremendous pace and power, he's a very athletic boy and I think that next season we'll see a better player,' Ferguson said. 'Hopefully he's an emerging player for us.'

Mello said that part of the way to grow the Asian base was to buy Asian players and with Park Ji-sung's success in Korea, similar comparisons with Dong have started. That Macau was in adoration of Manchester United was obvious and the game's result hardly mattered.

The regular season is a different story. With its reported 70 million fans worldwide, of which 41 million are from Asia, winning is just as important to the brand as is the number of jerseys sold.