Updated with ministry's reply

The Malta Tourism Authority will be forking out close to €20 million to football giants Manchester United for a three-year advertising contract, The Sunday Times of Malta is informed.

Both Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi and Manchester United are keeping the value of the deal under wraps, citing “commercial sensitivity”, but sources close to the agreement confirmed that it will cost close to €20 million.

“The deal was directly negotiated between the MTA officials and Manchester United’s commercial arm and no agents were involved,” the source said.

The agreement, which spans over three years, mainly consists of advertising around Old Trafford, with the Maltese government paying in instalments, close to €20 million, depending on the fluctuations of the sterling, the sources said.

Dr Mizzi and a delegation invited the press for the announcement of the deal but the financial details were not divulged.

Likewise, the Premier League club does not disclose the terms of any of their commercial deals, which so far include some 25 global partners. These vary from Mlilly – the club’s official global mattress and pillow partner, to Visit Malta, now its official global partner.

Tourism experts said while the deal cannot be underestimated, particularly due to the high international profile of Manchester United and its reach outside the UK, the sponsorship money is on the high side, particularly considering Malta’s limited tourism marketing budget.

The tangible benefits of such a deal are also very subjective and immensely difficult to quantify, the experts said.

The Maltese government is describing the deal as the best-ever marketing tool achieved by the tourism authority.

“The government will be getting extensive sponsorship rights to advertise the Visit Malta brand on a number of channels, including adverts at Old Trafford during all home matches, the club’s print media and the club’s digital and TV platforms,” a spokesman for the minister said.

Asked about the value of the deal, the ministry replied: “The fees to be paid are commensurate to the stature of the club in question and the global strength of the brand, but yet still within MTA’s marketing budget.”

This was not the first time that the MTA eyed English football for its marketing.

Although at a much less prestigious level, in 2008 the MTA had signed a deal with Sheffield United who sported the Visit Malta logo on their shirts, among other benefits.

The full details of this agreement, including the yearly sponsorship of €450,000, were made public by the government.

Manchester United is considered to be the richest football club in the world, mainly thanks to its ability to strike lucrative commercial deals. In 2016, its commercial department generated €308 million.

Commercially, their closest challengers are Bayern Munich, which makes €290 million, Paris St-Germain (€258m) and Barcelona (€250m).

'Speculation and assumptions' - ministry

In a reaction, the Tourism Ministry said the article was based on the journalist’s own speculation and assumptions, in an attempt to create a negative aura around the partnership agreement.

"Although the cost of the actual partnership is commercially sensitive, the figure invented by the said journalist is a complete fabrication and nowhere close to the actual committed funding, which is in line with the Malta Tourism Authority's marketing budget."

The ministry said Manchester United is considered by many as the most popular sports team in the world with a fan base of more than 1.1 billion fans.

"Hence, the global strength of their brand was considered as a crucial factor of this commercial agreement, which will see the government of Malta getting extensive sponsorship rights to advertise the VisitMalta brand on a number of channels including adverts at Old Trafford, the Manchester United Stadium, in all home matches, the club’s print media, the club’s digital platforms, the club’s social media, the club’s official television station, and other direct marketing and events being held all around the world."

It said partnering with such a strong brand should bring about several add-on benefits, especially in terms of visibility and improved customer recognition to Visitmalta and to enhancing overall credibility not only in the UK and other traditional markets, but also in non-traditional markets such as the US, Japan, South Korea, Middle-East, South America and in Manchester United's strong fan-base around the world.


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