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WORLD SPORT

Vodafone drops Ferrari for McLaren

LONDON, England -- Vodafone has dropped fading Formula One team Ferrari to switch its sponsorship to McLaren Mercedes from 2007, the mobile phone company announced on Wednesday.

Ferrari and ex-world champion Michael Schumacher, who is also sponsored by Vodafone, has just endured its worst season in nearly a decade.

Vodafone's move comes hard on the heels of a decision to end its shirt deal with the 'red' giants of football Manchester United.

The Premiership side, like Ferrari, is struggling having been a once dominant brand with Vodafone preferring to sponsor the European Champions League in the future.

The multi-year title sponsorship deal is a huge boost for Mercedes-powered McLaren who have been without a title sponsor since July when their link-up with West cigarettes ended as new EU legislation on tobacco advertising came into force.

The team will be known as Vodafone McLaren Mercedes and boss Ron Dennis was delighted to seal the deal.

He said: "This is only the third time for more than 30 years that the opportunity to become the team's title sponsor has existed.

"The status of the brand and the level of activation in support of the sponsorship were key criteria for our choice of title sponsor and Vodafone over-delivers in all respects."

Vodafone will offer its third-generation (3G) phone customers a range of Formula One content including racing news updates, test results, team biographies, videos and ringtones.

"The new agreement delivers a fantastic marketing platform; the associative rights we acquire as a result of this new sponsorship provide us with additional opportunities to continue to raise brand awareness, build brand preference and drive revenue," Vodafone's Chief Marketing Officer Peter Bamford said.

The company did not disclose financial terms of the new deal. The Ferrari contract has been valued at about $40 million a year.

Marlboro currently title sponsors of Ferrari in a deal worth an estimated $60 million a year which also runs until the end of 2006.

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