General Motors, Seeking China Sales, Ditches NFL for Soccer and Manchester United

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After ditching Super Bowl ads, General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) pivoted away from the NFL and instead entered into a five-year advertising partnership for its Chevrolet brand with the popular British soccer team Manchester United, a move meant to bolster the brand's global awareness, the company announced Thursday.

The terms of the deal between GM and Manchester United have not been announced. The decision to sponsor Manchester United comes just weeks after the company decided to get rid of its expensive Super Bowl advertising and Facebook ads.

As Chevrolet continues to grow as a global brand, this is the right time to make a commitment and establish a presence in international football, GM global chief marketing officer Joel Ewanick said.

GM is focusing heavily on developing its Chinese market, and the British soccer team has more fans in that nation than any other, according to Auto News. Overall, there are 3.5 billion soccer fans globally compared to just 400 million who follow the NFL. Manchester United sells more team jerseys than all of the NFL's teams combined.

Manchester United has approximately 659 million fans globally, and GM is seeking to harness the sporting team's global reach to market Chevrolet. Moreover, the official announcement and celebration of the deal will take place at Shanghai Science & Technology Museum, where representatives from both the soccer team and the car company will be present, further underscoring GM's new global, and especially Chinese, marketing focus.

Manchester United has 108 million fans in China, according to Reuters.

The car company is also sponsoring what it calls the Chevrolet China Cup, as part of Manchester United's 2012 tour in July. GM has directly tied the success of its partnership with Manchester United to its continued success in the Chinese market. The company is hoping to emphasize the strength of China's soccer fan-base and the promise the country has for the future, which GM sees as a corollary to its Chinese presence and offering a growing number of vehicles to meet the needs of Chinese customers. In short, America's biggest car company is hoping that China's soccer fans will also become Chevy fans.

GM recently hit a record of 227,217 vehicles sold through its Chinese joint ventures in the month of April, and its sales for the first four months of 2012 are up 9.4 percent in the world's largest automotive market. The biggest Chinese gains for GM have come through its Chevrolet brand.

GM recently streamlined its marketing and advertising services to maximize the reach of each individual initiative. The global reach of soccer as a sport, especially compared to American football, is common knowledge, and GM has decided that it may be the key to improving its global marketing clout. The company also announced on Thursday that it would work with One World Futbol to provide 1.5 million soccer balls to youth in war-stricken zones, refugee camps, disaster areas and other disadvantaged communities around the world.

Chevrolet's support of One World Futbol comes as part of a company-wide global football initiative that includes sponsorship of Barclays Premier League giants Manchester United.

Shares closed down 17 cents at $22.20.

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