Amid the controversy over the AIG retention bonuses, I couldn't help but think of another group of millionaires (and one billionaire) now benefiting from the largess of the American Taxpayer. Beyond the suburban homes in Greewich, past the summer cottages on Long Island, way across the pond in the unlikely city of Manchester, England. More specifically, in Old Trafford Stadium--charmingly known as the Theater of Dreams--home of the Manchester United Football Club.
Way back in 2006, AIG entered into a sponsorship deal with Manchester United to the tune of about twenty-five million dollars a year for four years. That's not unusual. Most top European clubs have shirt sponsorship deals. Since real football doesn't have commercial breaks during play, sponsor placement goes just about anywhere there is room for it. That's not a bad thing. Fielding a team of superstars is not cheap, and you have to pay for them somehow. That's fair....
Okay, that's all true, but in tough economic times, when people are losing their jobs and homes and health care, when retirement funds have been wiped out, and long-established business are going under, underwriting the salaries of millionaires is a bitter pill. Worse yet, we are helping defray the cost of what is, in effect, the hobby of a billionaire. Florida based billionaire Malcom Glazer finished his takeover of MUFC in 2005. Glazer also owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and further benefits from the generosity of taxpayers there who spent $200 million in a deal that built him a staduim they also pay to operate, while he gets to keep most of its revenue.
Fair or not, it sucks. But a contract is a contract, and, in the face of billions of dollars, the effort spent to recoup fifty million is probably better spent trying to fix a more important part of this economic debacle.
Still, while we are stuck in a lousy situation, we should make the best of it. Since American taxpayers own 80% of AIG, and AIG is paying to have their crappy logo on the front of Manchester United's strip, we should get something more out of the deal. How about we change the AIG's logo to something a little less bland and corporate, and more reflective of the new ownership?
Maybe something like this? Much better. Simple, clean and tasteful. I suspect some of the fans might not be thrilled, but a contract is a contract, and as long as we are holding up our end, they can deal with it. Yes, there is danger in it as well. The Royal Bank of Scotland owns Citizens Bank, which has naming rights to Citizens Bank Park, home of the World Champion Phillies. As part of their own bailout, England's taxpayers bought a 58% percent stake in RBS. If the Brits took offense to the premiere team of the Premier League flying the stars and stripes, they could retaliate. They could change the name of Citizens Bank Park to RBS Park or William Wallace Memorial Stadium. So long as the cheese steak concession on Ashburn Alley isn't replaced with a haggis stand, the fans would scarcely notice the change. We may have had our differences in the past (I remember hearing about some unpleasantness a couple hundred years ago) but we seem to have gotten beyond all that now.
One other benefit is that just maybe....just for once, we might get to see a soccer team wearing the American flag win a match that anyone really cares about. And that--even at the cost of $50 million--would be a bargin.