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United brand can ride out Mourinho sacking: Experts

Manchester United's sacking of manager Jose Mourinho on Tuesday will not harm their potential as a marketer's dream but a continued slide in on-pitch performance could test the club's aura of commercial invincibility, say sports industry analysts.

United topped Forbes' most valuable football team list in June with a value of US$4.12 billion (S$5.64b) but experts reckon that does not mean they are immune to losing fans or sacrificing marketing heft when it comes to their global brand.

Experts suggest that is a road United could one day be on if they stick to a dull, defence-minded style of football that has led to their worst start for nearly 30 years and is compounded by the free-flowing brilliance of local rivals Manchester City.

"It is difficult to accept that such issues cannot adversely affect the brand and marketability of the club," Spencer Harris, assistant professor of sport management at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, told Reuters.

"Maybe the impact is not instantaneous, but assuming the situation remains the same over time, I would expect there to be some changes in the brand equity and marketability of the club, particularly at the global rather than the domestic level."

General Motors, which in 2012 signed a seven-year US$559 million sponsorship deal with United that saw the carmaker's Chevrolet brand become the club's official shirt sponsor, did not return a request for comment on Tuesday.

REVENUE DROP

In September, United said revenue for the three months ended June 30 fell 16 per cent to £147.6 million (S$255.8m) as the team's failure to get past the last 16 in the lucrative Champions League last season contrasted with the previous year, when they won the second-tier Europa League.

They could also miss out on revenue next year as they are unlikely to qualify for the Champions League given their current form, which sees them languishing in sixth place - 19 points behind English Premier League leaders and rivals Liverpool.

They are 11 points adrift of the final Champions League qualifying spot currently occupied by fourth-placed Chelsea.

According to Harris, who teaches a course called "Managing Soccer: Global & Local Perspectives", United are bigger than any one man, and the decision to send Mourinho packing drives home that philosophy to players, fans and opponents.

If anything, Harris suggested the sacking of Mourinho, who was outspoken and considered by some pundits to be a divisive figure, could actually galvanise United's support.

"The issue here is not about results as much as it is about coach-player relationships, style of play, and the global image and identity of Manchester United," said Harris.

But experts say it is the players who are the real stars, not the manager, and that when a team like United struggle, as they have this year, the pressure to make changes will come from the fans, shareholders and even the players.

Said Bob Dorfman, sports marketing expert at Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco: "There's usually a shorter leash on managers and players.

"There's just too many people that expect too much of Man United and ultimately if they lose, it hurts their marketability." - REUTERS

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