Mobile network Beeline partners with Manchester United

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Beeline, a mobile network operated by Russia's VimpelCom, has signed an agreement to become a commercial partner of UK soccer club Manchester United in Vietnam.

The deal will give the club's estimated 16 million fans in Vietnam a chance to see all the goals scored, exclusive interviews, news and behind-the-scenes access, the club said in a statement this week.

"Beeline is the right partner for us in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia an ambitious young organization which has already made a big impact locally in a short space of time," Manchester United's Commercial Director Richard Arnold said.

The club, one of the richest in the world, is expected to list shares on the Singapore Stock Exchange later this year to expand its business to Asia and raise money to cut its debts.

"We know that this partnership will bring great benefits to both partners. We're looking forward to breaking new ground with Beeline," Arnold said.

Beeline, which launched its service in Vietnam in July 2007, is still a small telecom company in a market dominated by three state-owned operators, VinaPhone, MobiFone and Viettel.

Russian telecom giant VimpelCom said earlier this year that it plans to provide an additional US$500 million for its joint venture in Vietnam, GTEL-Mobile, to expand Beeline's market. Local media reported that the goal is to make the network the fourth largest in the country.

Michael Cluzel, CEO of Beeline Vietnam, said football is the number one sport in Vietnam and the partnership with Manchester United will "bring this legendary club closer to this football-loving country."

"This step also demonstrates Beeline's commitment to the Indochina region in general and Vietnam in particular. We are planning to kick off various activities for our customers here," he said.

VnExpress reported Wednesday that while the deal is unprecedented, it did not come as a surprise to other mobile operators.

The news website cited several unnamed officials of Viettel and VinaPhone as saying that they had previously passed on Manchester United's partnership offers.

"It was unclear how we would benefit from a three-year deal with Manchester United, but if we had signed it we would have to pay more than US$6 million," a VinaPhone executive said. "That's impossible."

But industry insiders said Beeline may have been able to get a better deal and the partnership could help the company in its branding in Vietnam.

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