Manchester United, has struck the U.K.'s most valuable shirt-sponsorship deal, worth $99 million (£56.5 million) over four years to carry the name of insurer American International Group on its jerseys. But did the club get top dollar for turning its players into moving billboards?

United had been casting around for a replacement for its $16.6 million-per-year deal with Vodafone  after the two agreed last year to part ways early at the end of the current season, with the mobile phone transferring its sponsorship dollars to Europe's top club competition, UEFA's Champion League.

“Few institutions, sporting or otherwise, have been able to match the aura and mystique that FC Barcelona as a football club exude. Even if the team is doing badly, as it has done for long spells in its history, Barca has still always been symbolic with Protest Football - be it during Franco's reign where it became a potent symbol of Catalan identity to the incident in March 2002, when anti-capitalists protesting the WTO, stormed the Nou Camp pitch during a Barca-Real Madrid game. If ever there was an anti-capitalist entity sitting among the world's elite, it was Barcelona, or so it was perceived by people not even footballing. So what better place to showcase your ire, then, than in its backyard - with the whole world watching.

That this could happen at any other venue, with any other club is slightly unimaginable, for even if Manchester United's supporters showing their protest against Malcolm Glazer's advances at Old Trafford is heartening, it is a direct reaction to something that is likely to affect them and not so much an instance of lending the world's richest club to an issue totally outside soccer's purview.

By the early 1980s in England competition sponsorship had opened the way to club shirt sponsorship. Abroad, the wearing of product names on club shirts was already common.


In 1978 Liverpool became the first British club to have a shirt sponsor.Sponsors names in England were initially limited in size by the Football League in order to placate fans and the 'non advertising' BBC. Some products cigarettes for example were considered 'not suitable' for football shirts, though alcohol products are still regularly featured on shirts. Most sponsors are private companies, but: WBA has had sponsorship from the Health Education Council; Millwall has promoted safe sex; and Hull City were sponsored in 1997/98 by the University of Hull