When two executives of Chicago’s Aon Corp. went through their mail one day last fall, they each found a large package with a leather-encased box, containing, of all things, a soccer shirt with the company’s own logo emblazoned across the chest. The shirts appeared to be bonafide red home jerseys of Manchester United, arguably the most famous sports team in the world—or at least in the world outside the soccer-suspicious United States.
They had the red and yellow team logo and the Nike swoosh, and were obviously high quality, but they were just mockups. Aon, which is Gaelic for “Oneness,” had no relationship with the team. It doesn’t even have anything to do with its own hometown teams, the Cubs, White Sox, Blackhawks, Bulls, or Bears.
That overture led, eight months later, to a sponsorship and marketing deal in which AON paid a reported $130 million in exchange for having its logo on the jersey. The story of how this deal came about, and the benefits each party derives from it, offers an instructive look at the world of international commerce, where in the quest for global success, companies sometimes find themselves venturing into unexpected but auspicious pairings.
Manchester United is a giant on the world sports scene, transcending its un-sexy, industrial hometown in the same way Vince Lombardi’s Packers’ transcended little Green Bay. It’s fitting that the favorite book of its own legendary coach, Scotsman Alex Ferguson, is When Pride Still Mattered, David Maraniss’s biography of Lombardi.