China’s Richest Man Signs Manchester United Sponsor Deal

Hangzhou Wahaha Group Co., the beverage maker owned by China’s richest man, signed a sponsorship deal with 19-time English soccer champion Manchester United Plc to draw sports fans to its energy drink.

The three-year agreement will help Wahaha promote its Qili drink in China, the company said in a statement today. The English club may consume Qili during training and matches, Wahaha spokesman Shan Qining said in an interview.

The club separately announced a three-year sponsorship agreement with China Construction Bank Corp. yesterday, giving the nation’s second-largest lender sole rights to issue Manchester United-branded credit cards in the country.

Manchester United, with its lineup that includes Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie, estimates that it has 108 million followers in China, where it’s played 11 times since 1975 and where soccer is the most-played sport. The club, nicknamed “The Red Devils,” estimated in 2011 that 190 million of its 330 million fans were in Asia.

Closely-held Wahaha, which is more than 80 percent owned by 67-year-old billionaire Zong Qinghou, sells bottled water, fruit juices and tea. He has a net worth of $16.6 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

“The announcement of partnering with Manchester United represents a perfect opening paragraph in the next chapter of our history,” Zong said in the statement.

Sports Sponsorship

The agreement was signed yesterday in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, where Wahaha is based, with former Manchester United player Andy Cole present. It is the beverage company’s first pact with an international sports team.

Wahaha will run marketing promotions including three-on-three soccer competitions, which offer winners the chance to train at Manchester’s training academy, it said.

“Wahaha is one of the most iconic brands in China and one that has come to symbolize the dynamism and strength of the modern Chinese economy,” Richard Arnold, Manchester United’s commercial director, said in the release.

Manchester United rose 5.2 percent to $15.29 in New York trading yesterday for its biggest gain since its shares started trading Aug. 10.

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