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GM's Joel Ewanick Kicks Away Super Bowl In Favor Of British Soccer Team Manchester United

05/30/2012 04:45 pm ET | Updated Jul 30, 2012

No Super Bowl. No Facebook. But General Motors' chief marketer is saying "Yes, mate" to a major sponsorship and marketing initiative with the world's best-known soccer team, Britain's Manchester United. The Detroit News first reported the deal.

The move to align Chevrolet with Manchester United comes amidst a major push by GM to make Chevy a truly international brand. In Europe, GM has traditionally pitched its mass-market cars under the Opel brand in Continental Europe and the Vauxhall brand in the U.K. But longer term, GM sees making Chevy its lead brand a more efficient strategy.

Chevy sold 4.76 million vehicles worldwide last year. And Manchester United, despite being a British team, has followings in Chevy's most important markets going forward: the U.S. and China, in addition to Europe and South and Latin America.

A survey from market researcher Kantar this month found Manchester United is the world's most popular club, with 659 million followers worldwide.

"I don't know what the deal will cost GM, but it looks like a very savvy move," says Los Angeles-based marketing consultant Dennis Keene. "The people who follow Manchester outside of Great Britain on the Internet and on satellite TV tend to be higher-educated, higher-income people, and exactly the right audience Chevy should be reaching with a product lineup that is much better than it was five years ago."

According to the Detroit News, Manchester United's games are broadcast to 1.15 billion households globally -- and reach a total audience of more than 4 billion people a year. Manchester United also has an estimated 34 million followers in the U.S., according to the News.

GM's chief of global marketing, Joel Ewanick, recently made some hay in media circles by bad-mouthing the performance of Facebook ads just a day or so before the social network's initial public offering, announcing GM would no longer run ads on the site. He also said that GM would not advertise in the 2013 Super Bowl, after buying multiple ads during the big game the last two years.

Super Bowl ads this year cost advertisers a reported $3.4 million for 30 seconds of air time. Next year's ad rates are a reported $4 million per 30 seconds of ad time. One GM executive told me that Ewanick's about-face was meant to send a message to the broadcast networks that the Super Bowl rate "has gotten out of hand."

GM is a major sponsor for the Olympics this August, which will be held in London, and the Manchester United deal will give the automaker something to talk about and celebrate no matter how the U.S. teams fare in the games.

Grand Blvd. is a weekly column about cars from David Kiley. For more of his writing, and everything about cars, head over to AOL Autos.