The Manchester United Supporters Trust (Must), the organisation looking to oust owners the Glazer family, is asking sponsors to “choose sides” between the fans and the Glazers.
It claims a change of ownership would “create hugely enhanced value” for sponsors as it would bring the “whole Manchester United family back together”.
Duncan Drasdo, chief executive of Must, will try to open a dialogue with sponsors next month. The commercial value of their partnership is being “diminished due to the unpopularity of the current owners”, he says.
Sponsorship experts agree that the brand could be damaged if they do not back the supporters’ group. Karen Earl, chairman of Synergy Sponsorship, says sponsors looking to use the partnership “to turn fans into customers” have more to lose than sponsors that are simply looking to increase exposure.
Pippa Collett, managing director of Sponsorship Consulting, agrees that the damage depends on the objective of the sponsorship, but adds that the PR risk could be “bigger than the financial risk”.
Calls and emails to Nike and Audi were unreturned at the time of going to press, while insurer Aon, which takes over from AIG as shirt sponsor in June, could not be reached. Betfair and Budweiser declined to comment.