Saturday, March 04, 2006

Asian-backed Mansion tipped to be ManU sponsor

Manchester United is reportedly set to sign the biggest shirt sponsor deal in world football with an Asian-backed internet gambling company. The deal, if completed, will smash the British record currently held by Chelsea, whose deal with South Korean electronics giant Samsung is worth £11 million-a-year and will top the current world record £14 million-a-year Taiwan's BenQ Mobile pays Real Madrid. Other Asian companies reportedly in talks with United include Japan's electronics giant Sony Etihad, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates backed by the UAE's billionaire royal family and Qatar Airways.

Mansion (Gibraltar) Limited, privately acquired recently by Indonesian tycoon Putera Sampoerna, has tabled a world record £60 million ($170 million) four-year offer to replace Vodafone, whose contract expires at the end of the season.

"Mansion are the front runners. Their offer is a fantastic one and officials here believe the deal should be signed, sealed and delivered before the end of March," a ManU 'insider' confided to Nick Harris of The Independent (reprinted in Singapore's The New Paper). "It is widely accepted that the Far East market is the holy grail in the gambling business," the source said. "There's huge potential there and United are seen as a way in."

Sampoerna, 58 (pictured right), has personal assets estimated at upwards of $1.5 billion and ranks 13th on Forbes' list of South East Asia's 40 Richest People. Last March he sold his family's giant Indonesian clove/tobacco kretek cigarette manufacturing company, PT Hanjaya Mandala Sampoerna, to Altria (Philip Morris) for $5 billion. Although criticised by Indonesia's government for not immediately reinvesting in the country's major infrastructure developments, the family's Sampoerna Foundation is a major contributor to social causes particularly education. A recent initiative is the founding of accessible English-language-curriculum high schools in Indonesia in partnership with the Australian International School.

Mansion provides internet poker and recently signed the biggest-ever televised poker deal with American TV giants Fox Sports Network. Its sports betting covers NFL and English Premier League, NBA and NCAA Basketball, Rugby and many more For bigger bets, Mansion Exchange combines interactive sports betting with the "competitive wholesale pricing of a live market".

Last month, Forbes reported that Sampoerna had made a £115 million approach to buy Les Ambassadeurs, the upmarket Mayfair casino owned by London Clubs International. A spokesman for LCI confirmed to Forbes that it had received an approach for "Les A" - as the flagship club is affectionately known - but refused to speculate on a suitor or price for a the gilt-lined converted mansion, which overlooks Hyde Park. A couple of Les A's punters are Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson (pictured left) and apparel billionaire Philip Green.

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