PR battle triggered as Manchester United bids filed
The three known bidders for Manchester United Football Club are expected to launch competing charm offensives in the next few weeks as the race to buy the world’s most lucrative football club intensifies.
So far Ineos owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe, Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani have issued statements pledging their interest in acquiring a controlling interest in the Old Trafford club and bringing back the glory days.
At the weekend it was reported that US activist hedge fund investor Elliott Advisors had expressed interest in financing a bid for United.
Typically, the Glazer family are keeping their options close to their chests, and are expected to demand any bid values United at £6 billion. There have even been reports they could retain a stake.
All eyes will be on the stances of high profile business leaders, former players and celebrities, of which Gary Neville is all three.
Neville and his former team mate David Beckham controversially worked for the Qataris during the World Cup in November. The Sky Sports pundit and Salford City owner has been hugely critical of the Glazer ownership as neighbours Manchester City enjoyed success and riches and a modern infrastructure.
Former Goldman Sachs economist and leader of the potential Red Knights consortium Lord Jim O’Neill is keeping a close eye on the process.
Salford born bookmaker Fred Done has also been critical of the Glazer regime.
The Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) has demanded that any new bidder eradicate United’s debt burden and operate a governance structure more akin to a UK public company, but also offer fans the opportunity to invest.
“The present owners took Manchester United from being a club with no debt to being one of the most heavily indebted football clubs in the world. That debt has never been paid down and has hung around our neck like a millstone. Any successful bid should not be based on debt and should include a commitment to replace existing debt, and fund future capital expenditure, through new share issues,” the statement said.
They also demand shared ownership with the fans as partners. “In contrast to the current dual class share structure there should be a single class of shares with the same voting rights for all shareholders. The club should raise funds through regular share issues to fans, replacing debt with equity at every opportunity and growing the collective small fan shareholder stake.”
Russ Mould, investment director at Manchester investment platform, AJ Bell, said: “As bidders continue to circle one of the globe’s most valuable sports franchises, it seems no party has reached the £6bn valuation put on the business by Manchester United’s current owners.
“A tense battle awaits with no suggestion interest from Saudi Arabia has been made concrete. For now, it looks a two-horse race between Ineos-owner Jim Ratcliffe and Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani – the latter a proxy for the Qatari state.
“An alternative is a potential investment rather than takeover by hedge fund Elliott Investment Management with the Glazer family retaining control.
“The Glazers are unpopular with the fanbase but there are signs United devotees would be equally unhappy with a Qatar-backed takeover given concerns about sportswashing.
“The storied history of the club and its rarefied place in the UK’s cultural landscape might mean greater scrutiny from regulators and other relevant authorities of a Middle Eastern state effectively taking control in the way they have with Manchester City and Newcastle.
“A multibillion-pound price tag may sound fairly reasonable given Manchester United’s commercial reach, one which extends into lots of different markets, but any buyer would likely have to invest heavily in an unbalanced playing squad, outdated training facilities and a stadium in need of refurbishment.”