GM interim marketing boss springs into action, touts soccer deal
Alan Batey: "Manchester United's statistics are impressive."
NEW YORK -- Joel Ewanick is barely out of the door after a tumultuous two years with General Motors, and interim CMO Alan Batey is already jumping into action, attempting to steer the conversation about GM's marketing activities to a positive place.
On Monday, Batey started out his first day on the job by speaking publicly about General Motors further strengthening its relationship with soccer club Manchester United -- which, interestingly, is the very same relationship that's being reported as the root of Ewanick's ouster.
In May, GM announced a five-year sponsorship deal with Manchester United, which, amid talk of the carmaker pulling out of the Super Bowl after a big presence in the game in previous years, came across loud-and-clear as a statement about GM's focusing on trying to make Chevrolet into an iconic global brand. CEO Dan Akerson is also understood to want sales of GM brands like Chevrolet and Cadillac to be less dependent on the home market in the U.S.
Now, just hours after the news of Ewanick's departure, the automaker has announced that its biggest brand, Chevrolet, will be the football club's latest shirt sponsor, starting with the 2014-2015 season. The seven-year deal for the shirts, which was signed for an undisclosed amount, will make GM the fifth sponsor in Manchester United's 134-year history. The automaker replaces insurance broker Aon, whose partnership with Manchester United began in the 2010-2011 season.
Insurance firm Aon is paying Manchester United about 20 million pounds -- $31 million, based on current exchange rates -- a year as exclusive shirt sponsor in a deal that began in 2010 and goes through the 2013-2014 season, according to disclosures Manchester United made this month in a filing for a U.S. initial public stock offering.
The $300 million or more GM plans to spend on the deal still is a small portion of what GM spends on worldwide advertising and sales promotion ($5.6 billion in 2011, according to GM's 10-K).
"We are extremely proud to connect our brand, Chevrolet, with Manchester United and its passionate supporters all around the world," said Batey, who in addition to interim CMO is North America vice president of U.S. sales and service, in a statement. "Manchester United's statistics are impressive, but this relationship goes far beyond the numbers -- this relationship is about connecting our brand with the deep-seated emotion that surrounds the team everywhere it goes."
It's a swift effort on Batey's part to seize control of the conversation, rather than avoiding the Manchester United topic completely.
GM has been largely mum on the reasons for Ewanick's departure, apart from a cryptic quote to Automotive News that said he "failed to meet the expectations the company has of an employee."
People close to GM say they'd be surprised that, in a company with so many checks and balances, that a sponsorship deal would get through if it wasn't airtight and squeaky clean.
'Hard to believe'
"I find it hard to believe that that would be the impetus for Joel leaving the organization, because there are just too many processes and signature authority needed that would eliminate," one executive close to GM told Advertising Age.
"It'd be almost impossible, and given Sarbanes Oxley there is so much oversight on all these deals that go on. I couldn't believe that GM would be so lax with their controls...especially since the whole bankruptcy situation. It could be GM not looking to have egg on their face because they hired the wrong person to start with."
As GM begins its hunt for a permanent CMO to replace Ewanick, Batey won't be sitting idly. People familiar with the matter say Batey is on better terms with GM North America President Mark Reuss that Ewanick was -- and that could be telling for whoever is brought in as CMO next.
Bradley Johnson of Advertising Age and Philip Nussel of Automotive News contributed to this report.
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