Manchester United names Apollo official tyre in UK and India

On 21 August, Apollo Tyres signed a three-year partnership with Manchester United, which sees the company named as the official tyre of the world-famous football team across both the UK and India. Details of the investment associated with the deal have not been released. What we do know is that as well as access to player appearances in both countries the company will be making the most of its association with Man U in online advertising as well as its marketing and point of sale material. In addition, in a development of its ‘go the distance’ philosophy, Apollo Tyres will create football-based play zones in local communities in the UK and India; these will feature recycled rubber and encourage healthy lifestyles among youngsters.

According to representatives of both companies, the deal is as much about a meeting of minds between the two firms as about anything else, however while Apollo already has annual sales of US$ 2.34 billion the recent agreement to purchase Cooper Tire points to the company’s need to both rationalise its future brand portfolio and build at least one of its brands into a global name. With this in mind it is clear that with this latest announcement, Apollo is looking to leverage the high-profile partnership with Manchester United (which itself it already a global brand) while at the same time raise awareness of its brand among potential customers, business partners and consumer audiences around the world.

Commenting on the announcement, Onkar S Kanwar, chairman, Apollo Tyres Ltd said, “This is a very important partnership for us as a company and clearly demonstrates our global ambitions for our business, and the brand. Very few sports platforms deliver a global profile and awareness and we believe the impact of this relationship will be significant in helping to make Apollo a globally recognisable brand.”

As we have seen, a key element of the partnership will be a joint community commitment to encourage young people to develop their sporting skills and healthier lifestyles. While no details of target number of pitches (either in the UK or India) has yet been released, the first ‘go the distance’ pitch will be built within the grounds of Old Trafford before similar pitches are rolled out “across the UK and India.” This initiative will include some specific skills challenges, encouraging users of the Apollo football play zones to achieve excellence in control, agility, speed and precision.

Manchester United group managing director, Richard Arnold commented: “Apollo Tyres is a leading player in the tyre industry and its rate of growth and development into new territories made it an attractive partner for the Club. With a combined fan base close to 46 million followers in both the UK and India, we are confident in providing Apollo with a captive audience. This partnership will allow Apollo not only to promote its brand, but also to engage and communicate with our fans…”

At the official signing of the contract by Apollo Tyres chairman Onkar S Kanwar, managing director Neeraj Kanwar added: “[Linking] a tyre with Manchester United takes us to the next level.” Asked why the company chose football and not another more directly linked marketing activity, such as motorsport for example, he said: “We like to do things different”. The fact that Neeraj Kanwar said he and his son had been United fans “for over a decade” is unlikely to have harmed either.

Global reach?

As significant as the Manchester United deal is in Apollo’s fast-moving brand history, it also has to be put into context. First of all, Apollo’s investment makes it the 36th firm to agree to sponsor the reds this season. Although Apollo’s three-year deal means that there is the chance that other companies will not renew during the subsequent seasons, there is still only so much marketing pie to go round and the biggest slice undoubtedly goes to businesses like shirt-sponsor Aon.

It is also worth remembering that Apollo is not United’s only tyre sponsor. Back in January, Indonesian manufacturer Multistrada announced that it had agreed a partnership deal with Old Trafford too. While details about this contract are thin, it does appear that the Indonesian deal is focused on Multistrada’s domestic market. Therefore due to the fact that the local language is based and entirely different script to Western languages, this is unlikely to dilute the impact of the Apollo deal too much. And the flip-side is also true. Owing to the fact that Apollo has focused its partnership rights on UK and India, not only has the company gained access to a single mature European market as well as an Anglophone emerging market (which also happens to be home turf for Apollo), by virtue of the English-language both countries have in common, the company has gained indirect access to the world. Who can stop press coverage written in English – in either the UK or India – being distributed right round the world as well as one of the most populated countries on Earth?

That said, and it should be clarified that no-one vocalised this in as many words, the Manchester United sponsorship doesn’t include any advertising hoardings at the ground. This means that the Apollo name won’t be picked up by the global TV coverage that Manchester Unite attracts. So, while it is clearly too early to say, one cannot deny that the news has the feel of a phase one about it – phase one of Apollo’s global brand building strategy in general and phase one of the company’s relationship with Manchester United in particular.

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