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March 29, 2016

Volume 7 Issue 3

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Gulf Hitches Brand to Manchester United

Most marketers would agree it’s not easy to expose a lubricants brand to 4.7 billion people, but Gulf Oil says it can potentially accomplish that by sponsoring the world’s most popular sports team, Manchester United.

Gulf Oil International – which markets India’s Gulf Oil fuels and lubricants – announced this month that it signed a deal with English Premier League football club Manchester United to cross-promote each other’s brands through May 2019.

The deal will put Gulf logos on digital advertising banner boards at the largest football stadium in the United Kingdom – Manchester’s nearly 76,000-seat Old Trafford. Gulf will sponsor official Manchester United events and appear throughout the team’s various digital communications platforms. It will also feature players and logos on its own promotional materials and launch a line of co-branded editions of some of its products.

Photo: Gulf Oil International

Gulf will market a Gulf United special edition of some of its most popular lubricants displaying top Manchester United players and even team colors in some regions.

The English Premier League is considered to be the most-followed and best-known football league in the world, a recent Statista dossier noted, highlighting Manchester United as one of the most recognizable sporting brands in the world. The team’s average in-home television audience was 1.4 million people per match in 2013, according to Sporting Intelligence.

The lube company, part of Indian conglomerate Hinduja Group, hopes the sponsorship will strengthen its presence in existing markets as well as attract new marketing licensees to help it develop lubricant distribution networks in countries it has not yet reached – particularly in Asia.

One third of the English Premier League’s audience is in Asia, according to Statista, and Manchester United’s fan base there is 325 million strong, Gulf Oil International Vice President for International Frank Rutten said. 

“Gulf is particularly looking toward expansion in China, Indonesia and the Philippines,” he noted, also pegging India, Japan, Australia and New Zealand as potential areas for growth. “The Middle East is also an area with a strong Manchester United fan base, and Gulf is starting to make inroads in Africa, where football has long been the dominant sport.”

Traditionally, car and motorcycle racing have been the most common sports for lubricant marketers to sponsor, but Gulf officials contend that tie-ups in other sports can yield dividends.

The deal with Manchester United is unprecedented for lubricant marketers, Rutten said, but Gulf is no stranger to non-automotive sports, having sponsored India’s Chennai Super Kings cricket team since 2008.

Through partnership with the team and its captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (who is also India’s national cricket team’s captain), “Gulf has seen its brand presence rise dramatically in India and its sales likewise,” Rutten added. “[The cricket sponsorship] has seen Gulf move up from one of the top six consumer and commercial vehicle lubricant brands in India into the top three during this period.”

Football fans represent a very unique audience, according to sports marketing analysis firm International Marketing Reports. “Football fans are more marketing-savvy than those in other sports, more vociferous when their team is doing badly or they feel their views are being ignored, yet more appreciative of hard-working sponsors,” a recent study noted. “A large fan base is an attractive aspect to a sponsor. The more people that follow and watch a team, the greater the potential sympathetic audience the sponsor’s message will reach.”

Terms of the deal have not been disclosed. Manchester United has 23 global sponsors. Its principal sponsor, GM, whose Chevrolet logo is prominently featured on the team’s uniforms, paid $560 million for a seven-year contract.