SBJ/November 17 - 23, 2003/Media

Man U talking to Fox about airing U.S. games

Manchester United is negotiating with Fox Sports to air at least one of its U.S. games next summer on the network rather than on Fox Sports World. Man U announced last week that it would return to the United States for a second consecutive summer exhibition tour.

This past summer, Manchester United's four U.S. exhibitions were all on Fox Sports World, which is carried mainly on digital cable tiers. The global soccer giant's games drew record crowds in Seattle, New York and Philadelphia, and appeared to have caught even Manchester's merchandise partner, Nike, off guard with the huge swell of support. Fans had a difficult time finding Nike's Man U gear to buy.

"We will certainly order more stuff for next year," promised Charlie Stillitano, president of ChampionsWorld, which will promote the tour and is working with Nike on next year's games.

Nike said merchandise sales would be just one of its areas of focus.

"We'd be very excited to build upon the momentum of last year's U.S. visit in three keys areas: Increase participation in our Man United youth camps and clinics; continue to broaden the success of our Man United Coaches Symposiums; and maximize our opportunity at retail for supporters and fans of Manchester United," said Joe Elsmore, Nike's head of soccer marketing.

Peter Draper, the club's marketing director, said he expected most of the first tour's sponsors, including Pepsi and Budweiser, to be back.

The money is also about the same for Man U. Last year, sources said, ChampionsWorld paid the team up to $3 million for the four games, and the club will receive a proportionate amount for three games next summer.

The main difference between the two tours, Draper said, would be a focus next year on recruiting members to Manchester United subscription fan programs. The team, strong in Asia and Europe, has made a concerted drive to increase its brand in this country.

Ironically, it may have been a lack of awareness of the brand that specifically propelled the team to come back so soon, after having waited 20 years between its last two visits. The club's manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, said he and the players were pleased to be able to walk the streets in America without being recognized.

Alas, in 2005 the team expects to make a summer swing through Asia, where the club is commonly greeted like a rock band.

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