Could sponsor pressure for Asian tour push Manchester United towards Australia?

August 2, 2015 – 12:06AM

Michael Lynch

SENIOR SPORTS REPORTER WITH THE AGE

Manchester United forward Wayne Rooney in action against Paris Saint-Germain.

Manchester United forward Wayne Rooney in action against Paris Saint-Germain. Photo: AP

Liverpool pulled 96,000-plus to the MCG when they played Melbourne Victory at the cavernous stadium in 2013.

Real Madrid attracted more than 99,000 when they saw off Manchester City in late July in the final game of the ICC tournament staged in Melbourne this year.

Could Manchester United bring even more if they were lured back to Australia’s storied stadium next year as one of the soccer giants appearing in the competition?

It would be a tight squeeze, but if any team anywhere has the brand image and clout to rival Spanish giants Real and Barcelona it is United, even if they finished well behind the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal in last season’s Premiership race.

Reports in the UK this week suggested United’s major sponsors such as Chevrolet, the American car brand that is part of General Motors, and Aon, a UK-based global insurance giant, would like Louis Van Gaal’s team to play more pre-season matches in Asia next year.

A tournament in Australia against serious opposition in the ICC would be a perfect stepping stone to the 2016-17 Premier League season. It would offer serious preparation before a shirt-selling, brand-building sweep through China and other South East Asian countries on the way home before the kick off of the following Premiership campaign.

ICC organisers were delighted with the roll-ups for the three matches that took place in July, with Real the driver for massive crowds in their two games.

United, which is a regular in the ICC tournament in the United States, would be a huge attraction for organisers hoping to cement Melbourne’s place in the ICC hierarchy. The company that runs the competition also stages tournaments in Asia and the US.

Van Gaal, who took over as United coach a year ago, bridled at the amount of commercial activity his players were subjected to a year ago in the US and the club managed to cut back the number of distractions the Reds had to deal with this year.

The Dutchman would probably not be happy if his players had to do a lot more public appearances in Asia next season, but if the evidence of this year’s ICC tournament is any guide, they would not be subjected to an arduous off-field workload in Melbourne.

Neither Real Madrid nor Roma did much more than they were contractually obliged to in terms of media appearances, and there were certainly few opportunities to even talk to stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo. Manchester City, which owns A-League team Melbourne City, did rather more as they have more “skin” in the Australian game.

A report in The Times this week hammered home the power of the United name and explained why its shirt sponsor, Chevrolet – which inked a seven-year deal worth £357 million – was so keen to get more exposure in Asia using United as the vehicle.

The story said when the deal was announced at the 2012 Shanghai Motor Show, the car company received more than a billion page impressions checking out the details over the following two weeks. That was more traffic than it generated by advertising at the Super Bowl, The Times said.

United toured Australia in 2013 as part of a swing through Asia at the start of what was David Moyes’ sole season in charge at Old Trafford. The Reds beat an A-League All-Star selection 5-1 in front of 83,000 fans at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium.

United have just returned to England following their four matches in their latest US pre-season venue. Van Gaal’s team, which has spent heavily in the off-season on midfielders Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin, beat Club America 1-0 San Jose Earthquakes 3-1 and Barcelona by a similar scoreline before finishing with a 2-0 defeat to Paris St-Germain.

The Sydney Morning Herald

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