Why the New York Yankees Should Allow a Chinese Beer Sponsor on Their Jerseys

Last Updated Apr 28, 2010 6:50 PM EDT

If the New York Yankees ever walked out onto the field with Chinese beer logos on their jerseys, after doing a $10 million sponsorship deal to put them there, they'd be booed out of Yankee Stadium. Yet the equivalent of that event will happen in England on May 2 when Liverpool F.C. play archrivals Chelsea F.C. at the former's Anfield stadium in the North of England. The reason: 750 million viewers are expected to watch the event around the world, and brewer Carlsberg wants the Chinese to know that they're open for business in Asia.

American sports fans can laugh at the crassness of it all. (And they should take the opportunity, because it's not often that American sports find themselves in the "non-crass" category.) But sports business managers should examine this event carefully: It's a measure of how much money most major league teams in the U.S. are missing out on, either by failing to market their brands abroad, failing to offer shirtfront sponsorships, or by simply failing to play games that the majority of Earth's population are interested in (Nascar? American football?).

Carlsberg's Chinese stunt will mark the end of their £7.5 million annual contract to sponsor Liverpool. They will be replaced as lead sponsors by Standard Chartered, for £20 million a year -- a record when the deal was signed. Standard isn't looking to reach English Premier League soccer fans either, it's new campaign is clearly targeted at African and Asian investors.

It's not just $30 million sponsorships that Major League Baseball and the NFL are leaving on the table. It's everything else: Take, for example, the lowly New York Red Bulls, the Major League Soccer team whose average game attendance until recently struggled to break 10,000 fans. The team was bought by energy drink maker Red Bull in 2006. Combined with its acquisition costs, the company has spent about $285 million on sponsorship rights and building the club a spectacular, state-of-the-art stadium in Harrison, N.J. Can any other American sports franchise say their sponsor has done that for them? By comparison, Yankee stadium cost $1.3 billion to build, including $220 million of taxpayers' money. While soccer financing is less than perfect, it suggests that any American sports franchise that wants to secure its financial future should start looking globally, not locally.