By Keith Weir
LONDON, Jan 18 (Reuters) - Manchester United signed a three-year sponsorship deal with Japanese paint maker Kansai on Friday, proving the English soccer club's global fan base gives it an appeal stretching way beyond consumer brands.
Not surprisingly, Kansai is the first official paint partner signed up by United, 19 times English champions and nicknamed "The Red Devils".
The deal shows how top European clubs can use their international fan base to secure partnerships with a broad range of companies.
United has become adept at looking beyond the obvious categories when it comes to signing up sponsors. Last year, for example, it did a sponsorship deal with Yanmar, a Japanese company which makes boat engines.
United, listed on the New York Stock Exchange last year, claims to have more than 650 million followers around the world.
The English Premier League has a large global television audience and United's profile in Japan has been boosted by its signing of Japanese international Shinji Kagawa in 2012.
Presenting the new sponsor at the Old Trafford stadium, United Commercial Director Richard Arnold said the Premier League leaders and the Japanese company both prized "growth, investment in people and innovation".
"Manchester United's global network of fans and sponsors will help to raise the profile of the Kansai brand," he added.
Kansai Paint President Yuzo Kawamori said the company shared United's ambition of beating the competition internationally.
"Kansai's partnership with Manchester United is a further demonstration of Kansai's desire to become a global leader in the coatings industry," Kawamori said.
Soccer teams are seeking to maximise their commercial income as new rules to ensure they curb their losses take effect.
United signed two separate sponsorship deals in China earlier this week.