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The Manchester United business

Britons, even those uninterested in sport, would have to have been ignoring the news for the past few weeks not have seen reports about the audacious purchase of English football team Manchester United by American tycoon Malcolm Glazer. His bid, which looks likely to succeed and will take the club off the stock exchange, has enraged fans, concerned that a man with no knowledge of football or the club’s history will wreck the club.

I hope the fans’ worst fears do not come to pass. The deal is, however, troubling. Glazer has taken on a vast amount of debt to finance the deal, presumably calculating that he can earn enough profits to service his debt to make the deal – known in the jargon as a leveraged buyout – viable. With concerns rising that the economy could slow down and dent the firm’s profitability, such a deal could easily end badly for the club. A number of teams, most notably Leeds United, have fallen on hard times, nearly going under due to mountains of debt.

As a gung-ho defender of free enterprise, I can hardly claim that Glazer was not entitled to bid for this team under the rules of the stock market. He has taken his gamble and who knows, it may pay off, although the financial details don’t appear very reassuring. I have noticed more than just a whiff of unpleasant anti-Americanism in some of the reporting on this deal in some quarters of the media.

I follow another team – Ipswich Town FC – but have always had a bit of a soft spot for the team that has given us the likes of Duncan Edwards, George Best and Bryan Robson. I hope that this rather oddball entrepreneur from Florida understands what he is doing and does not wreck one of the most famous, if the most famous, sporting institutions in the world.

42 comments to The Manchester United business

  • Ah, Duncan Edwards! I believe there is a church in Dudley to this day with his image on a stained glass window. Just about the only famous native of Dudley.

    I have to say, though, for anyone who doesn’t particularly like United, the last few weeks have been a comedy goldmine.

  • Stehpinkeln

    Glazer will make a killing. He will do what Turner did with the Braves only he will do it on the international level. Every human on the planet will get a chance to watch Man U, and the other shows that will fill the feed before and after. What will it cost to advertise to a market of several billion? No, this is a foot in the door. In a few years he will be competing with Fox and their affiliates for domination of the international media. Where do you think CNN got it’s start? Glazer will package local football along with the ManU team and everybody will be wondering why they didn’t think of it. Throw in a few movies that can be gotten cheap and some old soaps, Friends and/or Cheers, depending on local customs. I Love Lucy or the Beverly hillbillies and you will attract the next generation of producers with ratings in LEO. That will create a demand for new programming which will start a positive feedback curve that will be awsome. Glazer will end up making Gates look like the piss-ant he is.
    Get out of your box and stop looking at ManU as a football team. See it as the lead-in for the ultimate entertainment package. Then ask yourself how many humans Don’t want to be entertained?
    When is the IPO due? Will it double and split in 10 days or will it take 14?

  • Stehpinkeln –

    That’s all very plausible, except that the linchpin for a new entertainment colossus needs to be something with excitement, verve, action!

    Instead, Manchester United plays soccer.

  • Winzeler

    Uh, RC, you know you’re going to catch a lot of crap for that one, right?

  • Julian Taylor

    As an Everton supporter I am still laughing myself silly at how poor young Shrek (Wayne Rooney) will now undoubtedly be sold off to pay for the costs of Glazer’s buyout leverage – “once a blue always a blue”, eh Wayne?

    Of course, I’m being very mild compared to what Mr Carr could probably say about the situation …

  • I live in the States and don’t follow English football but I have to ask. Was there a similar outrage when a Russian bought Chelsea, and promptly took them to the top of the table? Is Glazer being vilified simply because he’s an American?

  • There was considerable initial hostility to Abramovich taking over Chelsea… but of course nothing makes memories fade like spectacular success :-)

  • Johnathan

    Mike, there was not similar outrage when the Russian bought Chelsea for a basic reason – unlike United, Chelsea was in debt and needed the money. ManU does not really need it. Debt is at the root of the fears about what will happen.

    Someone asked above when the IPO is. Sorry if I did not make this clear – there is not going to be an IPO. Glazer intends to take the club private, at least as far as I know.

    Whether Glazer uses the ManU purchase as part of a broader forary into television to rival Murdoch, I don’t honestly know.

    I am still reeling at discovering that Julian Taylor supports Everton. Never thought JT was a scouser.

  • I wrote here why I think Glazer will fail.

    Glazer is attempting something that he does not have the money to do. He is rich, but he’s not that rich.

  • Pete_London

    The hostility exists for many reasons. It’s an enormous debt. Americans aren’t into football, favouring girly sports. Change is afoot and some Man Ure fans are simply resistant to the idea. Also (let’s be frank) Glazer looks a bit strange. If he was strolling through a park you’d put yourself between him the the children.

    Chelsea fans will experience the same emotions when Abramovich becomes bored and finds a younger, sexier plaything. Left on the shelf, boys and girls.

    It’s increasingly clear that only us Arsenal fans have any maturity on such matters nowadays.

    Anyway, the “There’s only one Malcolm Glazer” banner is packed and Cardiff awaits …

  • I have noticed more than just a whiff of unpleasant anti-Americanism in some of the reporting on this deal in some quarters of the media.

    I would have thought that this is for no reason more sinister than that nobody outside of America is the slightest bit interested in their silly fancy dress parties that they mistake for ‘sports’ and that Americans have no discernable interest in football.

  • Steve Shackleton

    As a fan of the bue half of Manchester I have mixed feelings.

    Oh the joy to see the red fans squirming, and the claims that the club will fold or the fans will set up AFC United. They believe that the club needs a few thousand fans!

    As long as the club is relatively successful then the glory fans will keep turning up.

    More importantly Man Utd is a global brand that sells across most of the globe, I think the guy will make himself a fortune, or should I say an even bigger fortune.

    Watch out for the all new theatre of Dreams The NIKE stadium, for starters

  • Michael Taylor

    Manchest United’s local (ie, British, from Manchester) fans have absolutely no inkling of the global power of the Man U brand, and the power of English Premier League football. I’m thinking particularly of the Asian support-base. Frankly, I doubt whether the Irish shareholders had the vision, skill-sets or financial muscle to develop that properly. So good on Glazer, and, for the local fans – realize how lucky you are to be part of the minute fraction of Man U fans who have the opportunity to actually see the team live.

  • dearieme

    Did Man U “give” us Robson? Surely they bought him. As for Master Rooney “once a blue always a blue” presumably meant that he expected to move to Chelsea?

  • Julian Taylor

    I agree with Michael’s comment that neither the fans nor, it would seem, the club itself have the slightest inkling of the enormous level of support ManU enjoys in the Far East. I cannot help but think of where Manchester United would be now had Rupert Murdoch been allowed to buy them in the 1980’s, but the sale was stopped by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

    As far as I’m aware I’m not a scouser, never have been one and never will be but I’ve always supported the Toffees – who also happen to play in a blue strip.

    … Eh! I know where you live Mr Pearce.

  • toolkien

    My biggest fear when I heard of the takeover bid is we will get soccer shoved down our throats so that revenues will flow to back it up. I can see the ads now-

    “Soccer – it’s the new chess, catch the excitement…”

    “Brought to you by Boddington’s – it’s got a plastic thingy…”

    It’s all I can do to ignore the Milwaukee Wave (in the finals for the sixth straight year – who knew – I mean yoo hoo…) but the onslaught of advertising will be tough to ignore. I can’t believe he’s not planning on pushing it here as well. Maybe he’ll be forced (thorugh lack of interest) to work a deal with BBC America for exclusive rights and I can simply leave the whole 100 tier off my cable subscription…. I can live without Coupling reruns and I own the good stuff on DVD anyway….

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Dearieme, yes, B. Robson came from West Brom as a young player – where he is now a manager – but he spent the lion’s share of his career at United, so let’s not split hairs. ManU has probably had the most productive record of any major club in fostering young players, for which it should get more credit than it does. For example:
    The 50s crop of Edwards, Coleman, Charlton, Whelan, Taylor, Pegg, Jones (many sadly killed, alas); 60s players like Best, Stiles, Aston, etc; 70s players like McKelroy, 80s players like Reme Moses, Norman Whiteside, Sharpe, Hughes, and then onto Beckam, Giggs, Neville bros, Scholes, McShea……

    You get the point.

  • JSAllison

    lose the idiotic offsides penalty and it might be worth watching. Work your tail off to create a bit of an advantage for yourself on the field and when you finally have one the officials slap you down, how bloody european. I’ve the same beef with hockey, so don’t feel unique.

  • Pete_London

    Johnathan Pearce

    Have a lie down and we’ll forget about the 80s. Thank Man Ure for Remi Moses and Norman Whiteside? In Whiteside’s case it was most ironic that injury forced him to retire. I’ve long suspected it was God’s way of saving the careers of his opponents. Sharpe came from Torquay but Hughes was certainly a player who could dish out the physical stuff. Shame he couldn’t take it.

    I did guffaw when you mentioned the Nevilles but, thinking about it, they have certainly given me a few laughs.

  • Wait till Glazer moves Man U. to Ireland to take advantage of the lower tax rates…

  • Jack Maturin

    I don’t know what the Man Utd fans are complaining about. In five years Malcolm Glazer will either have been a fantastic success, and they’ll be eating out of his hands, or he’ll have been a tremendous failure. If he’s a failure, he’ll have to sell the club at a knock-down rate, and if the Man Utd supporters can put their money where their mouths are, they’ll be able to buy the club on the cheap with a few shares each, to create a club more on a par with Barcelona.

    So either way, it looks good for Man Utd fans; either glorious success or they can get the club on the cheap. Such is the glory of capitalism.

    I think the complaints are on a more primitive level, and it’s a your basic ante-diluvian hatred of the market. There are currently 67,000 seats available to Man Utd fans for each home game. There are approximately, and let’s take a figure out of the air, about 200,000 people who would like to have these seats, for each home game.

    This means the clearing price for those seats has not been reached yet. Expect Glazer to raise the ticket prices until the demand for seats for each game is between 66,999 and 67,001.

    He’ll set the prices so that seats are bought for each home game AT MARKET RATES. He’ll know he’s hit the right price when he has one spare seat, or one person locked out, or even better (though unlikely), if EXACTLY 67,000 people want 67,000 seats.

    The current season ticket holders are angry because their closed shop is about to be broken. They’re currently paying less for their seats than they would, if Manchester United was properly exploited by the market. Of course they’re angry; let’s guesstimate that they’re paying about half of what they would, if the current closed shop of season ticket renewals was opened up. They’re as angry as any group of miners who’ve been told the party is over, and the subsidised mine, with its free coal rights, is going to be sold off.

    The other thing they’re angry about is that many of them have probably been making a profit for many years selling their season ticket seat rights for individual games.

    If I’m a closed shop member and I’ve bought a season ticket at £20 pounds a seat, and I can’t make a particular game, I can sell that game on to a friend or work colleague, for £40 pounds. If I do that for half a season, I get half a season of watching Man Utd, for free! $-)

    If I’m a London-based Man U glory seeking pot-hunter, and I get sick of watching Man Utd (and why wouldn’t they when a much better team, Chelsea, is around) I can even sell on my Man U season ticket renewal form for a tidy sum (let’s say, £1000).

    Nice work if you can get it.

    The closed shop at Man Utd is coming to an end. And the EVIL market is going to take away much of the free gravy I’ve been enjoying as a fan, for the last few years, at the expense of the Man Utd shareholders. Damn the market’s eyes. In fact, let’s use violence to stop this evil penetration of the market.

    It’s this use of physical violence, that has been threatened by some fan groups, and has been actually seen at some events run by those banks which funded the takeover, which really gives us a clue as to the origin of the hostility towards Malcolm Glazer.

    It’s plain old-fashioned self-interested collectivism.

    Good luck Malcolm Glazer. I hope he makes his gamble pay off and makes Manchester United even more successful.

    And as one who was assaulted by Manchester United supporting thugs, at Old Trafford a few years ago, for daring to wear a blue and white scarf, that takes some saying. But then, if Mr Glazer is successful, I hope he ensures none of these violent thugs have anything to do with Manchester United, ever again.

    Go Glazer, go!!!

  • Julian Taylor

    I don’t know what the Man Utd fans are complaining about. In five years Malcolm Glazer will either have been a fantastic success, and they’ll be eating out of his hands, or he’ll have been a tremendous failure. If he’s a failure, he’ll have to sell the club at a knock-down rate, and if the Man Utd supporters can put their money where their mouths are, they’ll be able to buy the club on the cheap with a few shares each, to create a club more on a par with Barcelona.

    So either way, it looks good for Man Utd fans; either glorious success or they can get the club on the cheap. Such is the glory of capitalism.

    Not sure when I last read such a load of unmitigated bollocks. You seem to think it would be okay to allow the club to take a nosedive and then for its multimillionaire players’ salaries to be paid for by THEIR SUPPORTERS?

    Away wi’ the faeries, as they say ….

  • John K

    I agree with Greg Dyke and indeed Sir Alan Sugar, there seems to be no way in which Glazer’s sums can add up. He has taken on the best part of half a billion pounds debt to buy the club. The interest payments will be more than last year’s profits. He has apparently used a kind of bond to finance this whereby the interest is not actually paid each year, instead it is rolled up with the principal, and paid when the bond matures. Whilst this will help his cashflow, it also means the club has to pay interest on its interest, and will end up owing, according to the FT, almost a billion pounds.

    If Glazer thinks he can exploit untapped markets in the US or far east he is delusional. MUFC has been trying to do this for years, but the fact is football is not popular in the USA, and whilst it is in the far east, no-one there will shell out £40 for an echt MUFC shirt when they can get a snidey one for a few baht. This strategy is akin to the western businessmen who have wet dreams along the lines of “if only we can sell one can of Coke/razorblade/whatever to every Chinaman.” It never seems to work.

    What fans object to is the fact that MUFC is, as a plc, actually very well run as a profitable business with no debts and a successful team. Now, the business is going to be crippled by debt, and experience has shown that this always eventually impacts on the team. It is especially distasteful that Glazer can borrow the money to buy out the company’s shareholders, and then secure his debt against the company, thus in effect buying the club with its own assets.

    As to the argument that prices are too low at MUFC, I can only say that they went up by 25% this season, and I find £34 for a ticket to one match to be pretty high. You might be able to charge more and fill the ground with visitors from Japan, but anyone who knows about football knows that a team needs to have a partisan home crowd on its side, not a bunch of day trippers with carrier bags full of megastore tat. That’s what home advantage is all about.

    As it happens, Shareholders’ United is working on a finance scheme with Nomura, so that when Glazer crashes and burns we will be in a position to raise about a quarter of a billion to buy the club back, and that is the only bright light on the horizon as far as I can see. Oh, and these bondholders will end up with Jack Shit, but hey, that’s capitalism.

  • John K

    Not sure when I last read such a load of unmitigated bollocks. You seem to think it would be okay to allow the club to take a nosedive and then for its multimillionaire players’ salaries to be paid for by THEIR SUPPORTERS?

    The supporters always pay the salaries don’t they? Even with money from TV, gate receipts are still the bulk of the money coming in to the club.

  • Stehpinkeln

    Maybe on that side of the pond, but over here gate reciepts are chump change. Baseball is a little different, since the number of games played throws supply and demand into the ring. But the NFL takes Supply and demand and makes it an indirect factor by extracting one lump sum from the TV networks. Then it becomes Market share, which is not quite the same. A kissing cousin, so to speak. The networks sell various stoopid things to many stoopid people and everybody is happy. And Glazer has done something like this before. He bought the Tampa Bay NFL Franchise and did quite well by them. While the Brits do some things very well indeed, Marketing is not one of them. Nobody sells ideas better then America.

  • Zathras

    I’d be dubious about a leveraged deal like this. But Glazer is a pretty shrewd businessman. As far as the team on the field is concerned, off his record with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Manchester fans won’t even know he’s there. It’s not that he doesn’t care about soccer — though let’s not kid anyone, it’s a sport where fans root for riots just to have something entertaining to watch — but Glazer’s MO is to pick a guy he thinks knows how to run the team and let him run it. This doesn’t always work, for Glazer or anyone else, but before Glazer bought the Buccaneers they were really, heroically bad for a very, very long time. The guys he picked to run the team brought home a championship.

  • So Glazer crashes loaded with debt…. (which of course Chelsea would never do, the widder Abramovitch wouldn’t call in the loans / gifts on the unfortunate devise of her husband travelling in a dodgy helicopter… like Russian oligarchs seem to do)… I can see the fillum now on Ch 4.. set up shot, windy empty stadium, rubbish strewn, blowing about, ..interview with spotty 17 year old .. I remember Man U in the glory days … now they are going to build a Wal Mart here… anyway now Preston North End are in the Eurpean League I can’t afford the tarin fare to Preston…smashes camera…”

    In your dreams buster, Mr G will clean up. Why he’s resented ? You may have noticed he’s a Jew, he looks like a Jew….

    Interstingly his first vehicle Zapata Industries (fish oils) was G Buss Snr’s non oil from the soil business before he sold that off to South Penn = Devon Energy.

    Mr G is a big buddy of Jeb.

  • Johnathan

    Pete_London, lie down yerself, matey! Until George Graham sorted things out, the 80s were a deadzone for the Gooners as well. At least United won the Cup a couple of times in that sorry decade.

    To be fair, Graham pulled things around and brought on some young talent like Paul Davis, Tony *make mine a large brandy” Adams and the late David Rocastle. I was very sad at Rocky’s passing. Great player.

  • David Crawford

    Pete_London wrote:

    “Americans aren’t into football, favouring girly sports.”

    Have you ever seen an English soccer game? I’ve seen it (Fox Soccer Channel). Two of those poofters will slightly brush against each other, and they’ll both go down, rolling around on the ground like they just got slammed with a baseball bat. The Premiership has to have the biggest collection of pussies on earth.

    Of course, in America, soccer is the preferred game of six year-old girls from the suburbs.

  • Tim Sturm

    He’ll set the prices so that seats are bought for each home game AT MARKET RATES. He’ll know he’s hit the right price when he has one spare seat, or one person locked out, or even better (though unlikely), if EXACTLY 67,000 people want 67,000 seats.

    Well, this would be best achieved by selling the tickets by auction.

    Tickets to the Ashes test at Lord’s were allocated by lottery for about £45 each. They are currently selling on EBAY for over £200 each. Someone’s losing out bigtime.

  • Pete_London

    Johnathan

    Rocky was, indeed, a great player and a bloody nice bloke too.

    David

    After looking up the word ‘soccer’ in my OED I now know what you mean. What you were watching was our ‘Fox News’ version of the beautiful game. It’s performed for the US market.

  • PG Wodehouse

    “Of course, in America, soccer is the preferred game of six year-old girls from the suburbs.”

    Do you know they call baseball Rounders in this country, and children play it with a soft ball?

    – Picadilly Jim, chap.5

  • toolkien

    Hey, if tommies and yanks are gonna go at it, I still want an apology for taxation without representation and all that impressment business.

    “Remember the River Raisin!!!!”

  • David Crawford writes:

    “Pete_London wrote:

    “Americans aren’t into football, favouring girly sports.”

    Have you ever seen an English soccer game? I’ve seen it (Fox Soccer Channel). Two of those poofters will slightly brush against each other, and they’ll both go down, rolling around on the ground like they just got slammed with a baseball bat. The Premiership has to have the biggest collection of pussies on earth.

    Of course, in America, soccer is the preferred game of six year-old girls from the suburbs.”

    Excuse me if I smile. As an Australian, it always amuses me to see Americans, who play football with motorcycle helmets on, disparage other football codes for lack of courage.

  • John K

    In your dreams buster, Mr G will clean up. Why he’s resented ? You may have noticed he’s a Jew, he looks like a Jew….

    Glazer is Jewish, but no-one I know has got it in for him on those grounds. Martin Edwards wasn’t Jewish, but we still hated him, largely because he was the sex crazed idiot son of the dodgy butcher who bought Utd in the 60’s, who spent most of the 80’s and 90’s trying to find ways to cash in on his inheritance so he could spend it on call girls. We only got rid of that bastard after floating as a plc, and now we’ve ended up with Larry the fucking Liquidator in charge.

    If MUFC crashes because of the debts he has loaded on it, Glazer will not suffer, as he has transferred those debts on to the company. The bondholders will lose out, and I sincerely hope they do. But that’s what’s so really galling about this process, a well run and debt free business has been plunged into debt, purely to finance its leveraged takeover by Glazer. In exchange for a debt of half a billion United haven’t got a new stadium, or a galaxy of star players, they’ve got this greedy old bastard as an owner. It’s so not a good deal. Oh, and I think Utd fans will notice this old fucker owns the club when ticket prices double, at which time I hope as many as possible will boycott the club and bring his business plan crashing down. The only way I can see of geting rid of him is to refuse to do business with him, and hope to buy the club back from the administrators.

  • Matra

    Scott Wickstein

    In American football, unlike either code of rugby, the players are allowed to hit, and high tackles seem to be permitted, so the protective equipment is needed. In rugby, which I played as a child in New Zealand, you usually bring down an opponent by wrapping your arms round them and dragging them to the ground. It’s not as rough as it appears. But even with the equipment American football is still a rougher sport with a shocking percentage of former players dying before they reach 50 – and no, it’s not because of drugs. Indeed perhaps the fact that they are wearing protective equipment explains why it is so much tougher than rugby: the players think they are so well protected they don’t seem to recognise their limitations and often fail to exercise any restraint.

    The person who said American sports aren’t followed outside of the US must be a parochial Englishman. US basketball is far more popular in many parts of Asia and Europe than it is in the US. At least that’s what the television viewing numbers constantly show. Baseball is not as international but still it is followed by more people in the world than rugby – and it will have a 16 team World Cup next year. The NHL is also very popular in Scandinavia and parts of Eastern Europe.

    As to the ManU brouhaha I had to laugh at some fans saying Glazer was taking the team from its roots and only interested in profit. Isn’t ManU owned by shareholders at the moment? How many players come from the Manchester area? And then, there are those pathetic looking kits the teams have been wearing this last 20 years sullied with the names of corporations. The whingers need to get a grip on reality. They also need to get a life.

  • “Glazer is Jewish, but no-one I know has got it in for him on those grounds”

    You have little acquaintance with the denizens of the Stretford End then.

    Such views are, albeit in a minority – most I talk to (and Ilve in Manchester) see this as positive and an exciting opportunity to bring in a real European League.

  • John K

    Such views are, albeit in a minority – most I talk to (and Ilve in Manchester) see this as positive and an exciting opportunity to bring in a real European League

    I don’t now who you’ve been talking to. The “European League” already exists de facto as the Champions’ League, and the beef most Utd fans have with Glazer is not that he’s Jewish or a yank, but that he’s taking a well run and debt free company, and in effect buying it with its own money, thus plunging it into half a billion pounds of debt. Fans not only fear that ticket prices will soar, but that the burden of this debt will actually sink the club. If that happens Glazer will lose some money, the bondholders will lose more, but the club could end up like Leeds Utd, or any of the other clubs which have been raped by greedy, ruthless or downright stupid businessmen.

    People say that Glazer is not buying Utd so as to ruin it. Of course not. The point is, if his huge gamble goes wrong, he walks away and leaves a wreck behind. Then, the fans will have to step in and try and rebuild, because they are the only people who care. This has happened several times at smaller clubs. What is happening at Utd is similar, but on a larger scale.

  • By European League these guys want to recreate the NFL, shorter season, but just mega games – who wants to see Southampton regularly beat MU ?

    Bring on the Barca.

    ,

  • John K

    By European League these guys want to recreate the NFL, shorter season, but just mega games – who wants to see Southampton regularly beat MU ?

    I don’t want to see such a Euro league, I think it would be completely contrived, and exist purely for the benefit of the TV viewer. The point about European football is that it’s special, not the week in week out bread and butter matches. I’m sure Glazer would like to see something like it, but he would have to persuade the chairmen of the other big Euro clubs, and I do not think they would wish to reorganise European football for his benefit. Besides which, he only has 5 years before he has to find over £900 million to repay the bonds and accrued interest he has incurred. I can’t se it happening on that timescale.

  • ManuFloridaFan

    ALL the talk about what Glazer will or will do do with Manu all revolves around one thing. He (Glazer) has to make sure that Manu wins! If Manu is not a winner (and by that I mean a Premier Champion) all the rest wont amount to a hill of beans. TV contracts and merchandizing and entertainment network etc all depend on MANU being a winner. So I think to achieve all his goals, he better spend the money on Manu or all the rest will be for naught. If history is any indicator, he certainly did spend the money with Tampa Bay Bucs and also had the highest paid coaching staff in the NFL. Time will tell.

  • Richie Fin

    United have such a big fan base i can’t see us “doin a leeds”… hopefully not