A couple of weeks ago I gave readers of RoM the opportunity to pose questions for an Aon representative. Whilst wanting to get in to the nitty gritty, I was also mindful that any sponsor will be wary of what they can say about our owners. The fans want the Glazers out of the club and have made the club sponsors a target for boycott, putting pressure on them to pull out of deals with Manchester United, to encourage the Glazers to go, or face the negative reactions from reds towards them.
David Prosperi, the VP of Global Public Relations at Aon Coporation, has given us a few moments of his time to try and shed light on some of the fans’ concerns and without mentioning the “G” word, has talked about our debt, our fans and the ‘brand value’.
RoM: What will Aon be bringing into the club as an active sponsor rather than just a sponsor in name?
David Prosperi: Well, we want Aon to be seen as more than just a name on the shirt to the fans and supporters of Manchester United, and one of the ways we hope to do that is by supporting the tremendous community work that is done globally by Manchester United and the Manchester United Foundation. That is why we are kicking off our four-year sponsorship with a charity event at Old Trafford on June 1st, the first official day of our sponsorship. We will have about 150 representatives from Aon’s Manchester office and their families participating in a Penalty Kick Challenge with the proceeds going to The Christie charity in Manchester, a children’s cancer treatment facility in Manchester that has been supported previously by our Aon colleagues there as well as by the Manchester United Foundation. That same day, our 36,000 Aon colleagues who work in over 500 offices in more than 120 countries will be participating in what we are calling “Aon United REDy Day,” where they will contribute to a local charity or volunteer at a local event all for the chance to wear their Manchester United shirt or red clothing. We hope to engage in similar activities around the world over the course of our sponsorship.
RoM: Do you think season ticket holders should get more benefits from the sponsors? e.g. Aon give discounted insurance.
DP: We are exploring such possibilities but I do not have any details to offer at this time.
RoM: After the 4 year sponsorship deal, what do you expect to have achieved during the time with the club? Also do you see yourself staying longer than just the contracted 4 years?
DP: We have set four objectives that we hope to achieve as a result of our partnership with Manchester United: 1) We want to be able to use our sponsorship as an ‘amplifier’ to unite our firm worldwide; 2) We want to strengthen the power of Aon’s global brand; 3) We want to be able to grow our business in parts of the world where the Manchester United brand is very strong, such as Asia and Latin America; and, 4) We hope to achieve a more efficient, effective and globally coordinated global brand strategy as a result of our partnership. As to whether we see ourselves staying longer than just the current sponsorship, I do not have a crystal ball, but I think it is safe to say that we plan to do everything in our power to earn consideration from the club for such an opportunity.
RoM: Your company is now associated with a club against whose owners thousands of fans protest against each week. What’s that doing for your ‘brand value’?
DP: We think the passion of the Manchester United fans is part of what makes the brand so strong. What other team has such a large fan base outside of its own country? What other team sells more shirts than the entire 32 teams in the U.S. National Football League? What other team has aided brand awareness of 100 percent in Korea, 90 percent in China and 80 percent in Japan? What other team has over 60 million web page impressions per month? We think the brand value of Manchester United is of high quality and remains quite strong, and that its continued strength will allow Aon to grow our brand in a more powerful way than if we did it ourselves.
RoM: As fans we’re obviously concerned with the amount of debt the club is taking, rumoured from to be anywhere from £300m to £700m. As an insurance and risk management specialist does Aon see any opportunity to possibly restructure or free the club from the debt by any way possible?
DP: One of the things that attracted us to pursue the sponsorship opportunity is the passion of fans of Manchester United; the passion they have for the players and for the team to succeed and win. We also greatly admire the club’s desire for wining and for excellence, along with the fact that they have built a powerful brand with tremendous global reach. We think that the work that David Gill and his team are doing is great, and we do not see ourselves as being in a position to offer advice on financing or how to manage the club.
RoM: In the past Manchester United supporters’ groups have publicly criticised he club’s commercial partners. Are you in favour of this free speech?
DP: Aon is all about free speech and all about transparency. We believe in transparency in all of our dealings with our clients and we are all about providing them with the highest value for price. The reason we reached out to The Republik of Mancunia is that we want its readers to get a little better understanding of Aon, what we do as a firm and what we hope to accomplish as the shirt sponsor of Manchester United. We hope that dialogue can continue over the course of the sponsorship. We understand that there will always be differences of opinion and we respect the rights of the fans of Manchester United to voice their opinions. That is where their passion comes from. As long as free speech is based on the facts, then we can always agree to disagree on certain issues.
Aon made this investment in Manchester United because we felt we could not find a better partner who shares our values of leadership, teamwork and a passion for excellence. We think that the quote by Sir Matt Busby truly captures the spirit of our partnership with Manchester United: “At United, we strive for perfection. And if we fail, then we might just have to settle for excellence.” I hope that over the course of our partnership the followers of The Republik of Mancunia will come to agree with us.