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Sean Jefferson | Director of partnerships, Man United

Sean Jefferson was among the 10 executives whose work in 2018 we believe indicates the direction of the sports business in 2019 and beyond.

Manchester United proved that footballing success is not a pre-requisite for commercial growth in 2018 as it signed nine new sponsors and agreed a number of extensions, upgrades and renewals to existing deals.

The team’s director of partnerships Sean Jefferson takes a large degree of credit for a year in which sponsorship revenue once again accounted for the majority of the club’s overall commercial revenues (£173.2m (€200m/$227m) out of £276.1m overall). This helped it to outperform its nearest commercial competitor Manchester City (£232m in commercial revenues) by over £40m.

Four of the new deals signed in 2018 were in Manchester United’s highest global partner tier. They included the club’s first ever sleeve partnership with luxury bathroom manufacturer Kohler, deals with Whiskey brand Chivas; mobile betting brand MoPlay and partnership with True Religion to produce the club’s first range of club-branded denim wear.

The club now has an impressive 25 global partners, 9 regional partners, 13 financial partners and 23 media partners overall.

Partnership renewals, upgrades and extensions provided proof of the club’s ability to deliver a return on investment and service partners effectively for the duration of a deal. In May, Chinese company Mlily extended their global partnership as the club’s official mattress and pillow provider, while German company and official coffee partner Melitta transitioned to a global deal in August.

Frank Rutten, vice-president of the club’s official lubricants partner Gulf Oil, gave a sense of the power of Manchester United as a sponsorship platform – and also the assiduous attention Jefferson’s team devotes to the club’s partners – in an interview with SportBusiness in November. Without the partnership, he said the company would not have been able to carry through on its ambition to open a number of Gulf-branded service stations in China. He revealed that the club engages upwards of 80 marketers globally, counting those in-house and appointed marketing agencies, to help partners to leverage their association with the team.

“I look at the world through oil lenses. Manchester United looks at the world through football lenses but they also see the world through our customer’s lenses, and that is a magnificent added value that they bring,” he said.

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Our other nine trailblazing executives are:

Adam Silver | Commissioner, NBA

Alfredo Bermejo | Digital strategy director, LaLiga

Barney Francis | Managing director, Sky Sports

Darren Eales | President, Atlanta United

David Szlezak | Managing director, EHF Marketing

Joanna Adams | Chief executive, England Netball

Kerry Bubolz | President, Vegas Golden Knights

Laura Froelich | Senior director, head of US content partnerships, Twitter

Simon Denyer | Chief executive, DAZN Group

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