It’s the richest sports team in the world and it’s valued at $1.5 billion — that’s more than the combined value of the Yankees and Red Sox.
But Manchester Untied, the venerable British soccer club, is now at the center of an international tug of war, and an American businessman is in the middle.
The recent takeover of Manchester United by a yank — an American businessman called Malcolm Glazer — has soccer crazy Brits in a tizzy.
There have been protests in the streets by passionate Man United fans, who claim Glazer doesn’t even know where Manchester is, and the country’s newspapers have cried foul.
Glazer, who owns the National Football League’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers and led the once struggling team to the Super Bowl in 2003, seized control of Manchester United, a public company, earlier this week when he increased his stake in the club past the 75 percent threshold, enabling him to take it private and de-list its shares from the London Stock Exchange.
But to legions of Man U loyalists, many of whom have taken to burning effigies of the clubs new owner, Glazer is nothing more than an opportunist.
“He doesn’t see this is as Manchester United the football club; he sees this is Manchester United plc,” said Oliver Houston, who is vice chairman of Shareholders United, a group of Man United shareholders whose members want the club to remain independent.
United fans fear Glazer will raise ticket prices, take the company private and send the team into financial ruin, Houston explains.
“[Glazer] can then transfer his hundreds of millions of pounds worth of loans on to United’s books and saddle us with hundreds of millions of pounds of crippling debt,” he said.
To fight back, United shareholder groups are calling for a ban of the team’s big-money sponsors — Nike, Vodaphone and Budweiser — and they are urging fans to shun the team’s popular merchandise, which includes replica team shirts and memorabilia.
“There’s nothing else I can do except not give [Glazer] any money, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do,” said one fan.
Here in the United States, the Glazer takeover could mean more Manchester United games on television, from satellite and digital cable. It’s estimated that less than 10 percent of the club’s revenue comes from the United States, if anything.
But back in the United Kingdom, United fans are not giving up hope. They’re saying the new yank on the block has a long way to go to win their hearts, and their wallets.
“Until he can prove that he’s here for the fans or the tradition of Manchester United Football Club, I’m just not going to support them,” one fan said.