TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Two years ago, General Motors fired Joel Ewanick as its global marketing chief. His spearheading a Chevrolet-Manchester United sponsorship deal was deemed as a reason for the axing.

Today, Chevy lauds its marketing ties to the high-profile U.K. soccer club, even though Ewanick initially got rapped for it.

“It represents great exposure,” Global Chevrolet Chief Marketing Officer Tim Mahoney says at the Management Briefing Seminars here. “Manchester United provides us with a global stage, including here in the U.S. That’s rare.”

Among other things, Ewanick reportedly was fired for failing to vet the finances involving the sponsorship, which includes rights to put the Chevrolet name and “bowtie” logo on team jerseys. GM hasn’t revealed financial details, but some sources say the 7-year agreement costs about $559 million.

In terminating Ewanick, GM tersely said he “failed to meet expectations.”

But he says he feels vindicated. Breaking his silence last year at a J.D. Power automotive conference, he called the deal signed in 2012 a “no-brainer” with an expected quadruple return on investment.

The original arrangement was reworked. Ewanick had ruffled feathers when he tried to spread costs across different GM marketing units.

Chevrolet’s soccer club tie-in provides “excitement” as well as a worldwide marketing reach, Mahoney says at the MBS conference. “Manchester United has 700 million fans locally and 325 million in Asia-Pacific, where we are working to increase Chevrolet sales.”

A Chevrolet spokesman tells WardsAuto of the team’s popularity in China.

“On the streets, it seems like every young person there is wearing either a Manchester United shirt or a New York Yankees shirt,” he says.

Ironically, in Europe you’ll see people clad in Manchester United apparel, but you won’t see new Chevrolets for sale there for long.

Chevrolet plans to stop selling its mainstream vehicles in Europe at the end of 2016. GM says its Opel and Vauxhall brands will fill the void created by Chevy’s impending departure. GM introduced the Chevrolet brand in the U.K. nine years ago.

Ten years ago, about two-thirds of Chevy sales originated from the U.S. “Now, that’s nearly flip-flopped,” says Mahoney who joined GM from Volkswagen in 2013. “Sixty-four percent of Chevrolet sales volume comes from outside the U.S., including Russia, the Middle East, China and Brazil.”

Sold in 140 countries, Chevrolet now ranks as the fourth-largest auto brand in the world, delivering 5 million vehicles last year.

It’s internationally challenging to stitch together a common marketing theme using Chevy’s current slogan, “Find New Roads,” Mahoney says. “We’re telling one story in different ways to different people.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com