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Man Utd sign shirt sponsorship deal with AIG

MANCHESTER, England -- Manchester United, English soccer's most famous club, announced a four-year shirt sponsorship deal with U.S. insurance company AIG Inc on Thursday worth 56.5 million pounds ($98.98 million).

The deal covering United's famous red shirts, the biggest of its kind in British football, will begin next season and was hailed as "a blue chip deal for a blue chip club" by United chief executive David Gill.

"This is a deal that is right for Manchester United and it underlines our position as the world's leading club," Gill told a news conference.

"AIG's global operations compliment our great fan base and we are excited about the global prospects this relationship brings."

United, second in the Premier League behind champions Chelsea, are in their first season under the control of American billionaire Malcolm Glazer and his family after his controversial 790 million pound takeover.

United's nine million pounds-a-year shirt deal with Vodafone finishes at the end of this season after the mobile phone giant pulled out two years early to switch its allegiance to the Champions League, Europe's top club competition.

"We believe this relationship will mutually benefit both organisations and we look forward to maximising the value of this high-profile sponsorship to help grow AIG's businesses around the world," Martin Sullivan, president and CEO of American International Group Inc, said.

Gill said that Bryan Glazer, son of Malcolm, had been involved in setting up the deal. The American company's worldwide reach will help United increase their commercial operations, particularly in Asia, Gill said.

"We are looking to be more accessible to our global fan base, and having a partner with the knowledge and experience of AIG is invaluable," Gill said.

"AIG has over 250,000 employees and agents in Asia alone -- a region where we have an estimated 40 million fans. This deal presents both of us with so many possibilities."

Chelsea, owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, signed a five-year, 50 million pound deal with South Korean electronics company Samsung in 2005.

Glazer's arrival was fiercely opposed by many fans who were worried about the debt-heavy structure of the takeover.

United pulled out of a more lucrative deal with online betting company Mansion at the weekend and Gill said Thursday's deal proved the Glazers were with the club for the long term.

"We could have taken a bigger deal. We didn't. We took the deal that was right for Manchester United and this is with their (the Glazers') full backing, approval and awareness.

"We are not just trying to make the fast buck. We are trying to do the things that make us stand out from the crowd."

United posted a 20 percent fall in profit to 46 million pounds in the 11 months to the end of last June after revenue fell to 157.2 million from 169.1 million.

United, European champions in 1999, were knocked out of the Champions League in the group stage this season and struggled in the Premier League before mounting a spectacular recovery which has put them within seven points of Chelsea.

United's title of the world's richest soccer club was taken by Real Madrid in February for the first time in the nine-year history of the survey by consultants Deloitte.