London: For much of the soccer world a Manchester United jersey is the equivalent of the little black dress, something every fan`s wardrobe must have.
So when United begin their four-game North American Tour in Toronto against Celtic on Friday wearing the new kit, their legions of supporters will likely rush to buy the shirt that the teams says has already set a record for demand.
"It`s a massive business," the club`s commercial director, Richard Arnold, told Reuters. "A lot of work goes into that, it`s a year-round activity. We are already planning what future shirt designs will look like two, three years out."
Designed by Nike and adorned with the logo of their new sponsor Aon, the world`s largest insurance brokerage believes the four-year sponsorship deal -- which reports have valued at USD 120 million to USD 130 million -- can help the company build its global brand name and boost business.
The sponsorship is viewed as one of the most prestigious in sports due to United`s massive popularity and a global fan base that is estimated at 333 million worldwide.
At USD 1.84 billion, Forbes magazine valued United, owned by the Glazer family that also own the National Football League`s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as the most valuable sports franchise in the world.
"We`re partnering with the number one club in the world in the number one sport in the world," Aon Chief Executive Greg Case said in a telephone interview after remotely ringing the opening bell on the New York Stock Exchange from Chicago.
Aon has been preparing for the start of the United deal for over a year and Case said the return on the sponsorship has already been noticeable and that the company is confident it will see "multiples of return off the investment.
"We have multiple ways we`re looking at measuring impact and I must tell you we`re already well ahead of where we thought we`d be at this point in time," he said. "We`re seeing it in client response and client interest in Aon."
The Red Devils, who arrived in Toronto just four days after the World Cup final, kickoff their first North American tour since 2004 against the Scottish Premier League runners-up and wrap up their visit in Houston on July 28 when they provide the opposition for the Major League Soccer All-Star Game.
In-between, United will take on the Philadelphia Union (July 21) and Kansas City Wizards (July 25). They will also go to Mexico and help Guadalajara open their new stadium on July 30 as part of a deal to sign Mexican striker Javier Hernandez.
The club said the games in the coming weeks are presenting a challenge to have enough jerseys available for their fans in North America, where the team estimates its fan base is closing in on 10 million.
"One of the things we are struggling with is satisfying that demand (for shirts)," said Arnold." One of the challenges we are facing over the coming weeks is making sure that we can get all of the stock where it needs to be all over the world."