The Glazer family are still yet to shake off their negative image spanning from their takeover of Manchester United back in 2005. Red Devils fans were appalled that the business acquisition was funded by £515million worth of debt, which would be indirectly transferred to the club itself and secured against United’s assets, and would be repaid in the long run by the supporters through ticket sales and merchandising.
Furthermore, the stigmatism attached to having american owners – viewed as having little knowledge of the English game, or the integral cultural and social ties British clubs have, which is incomparable to the business style franchising of United States sports teams – did little to help the powerful family’s image.
The takeover infuriated United fans so much that a breakaway club was formed, FC United, who are making their way through the English league system and followed by a cohort of traditionalist Red Devils supporters, who still sing songs about heroes of old, such as George Best, Bobby Charlton and Sir Matt Busby.
Whilst the initial 4000 strong fan base for the breakaway movement has now dwindled down to around 2000, the majority of United fans have remained with their club, but have made no secret of their distain for the owners. However, the impact of the Glazers has done little to halt success on the pitch, with Sir Alex Ferguson leading the team to seven domestic trophies, including four Premiership titles, as well as a Champions League trophy in 2008. Similarly, off the pitch, Manchester United have remained one of the World football’s biggest economic powerhouses, raking in unprecedented revenues that the billionaire owners of Chelsea and Manchester City could only dream of.
So is it time we gave the Glazers a break? The initial concern was that Malcolm Glazer was simply a businessman, with little concern for the ins and outs of the game itself; he was there to make a buck out of an investment and would not be interested with the needs of the fans. But fast forward to the present day, and it is hardly just the United owners who could be accused of being purely business-minded. Liverpool, Newcastle United and Queens Park Rangers are owned by men who are business men first and fans second, despite how much Mike Ashley tries to convince Newcastle supporters he’s a Magpie through and through.
Similarly, Cardiff City’s takeover by money-rich Malaysian business men Vincent Tan and Chan Tien Ghee saw the fans have to compromise being given a sizeable transfer kitty for rebranding the club geared towards the Asian market, including changing their strip from blue to red, despite being historically nicknamed “the Bluebirds”, and plans to rename the team the Cardiff Dragons.
But even so, the business-savvy type of owner, has just as many drawbacks as the foreign billionaire style owner. Although Manchester City are still reaping the benefits of their Sheik majority shareholder who can provide a blank cheque for Roberto Mancini during any given transfer window, Chelsea fans are very much feeling the backlast of having a sole proprietor who can exercise full autonomy over a club via Roman Abramovich’s tight hold of all the purse strings, which has lead to the rather embarrassing and dividing Rafa Benitez saga, not to mention the Fernando Torres fiasco.
So perhaps Malcolm Glazer and his relatives don’t always have the fans best interests in mind, but in comparison to other clubs, their influence on all things football has been relatively minimal. At the same time, the business side of Old Trafford has been running smoothly to say the least, with new sponsorship deal upon new sponsorship deal.
Their latest arrangement with Chevrolet, in which General Motors will pay a record breaking £51million per year to have their automobile brand as shirt sponsors from 2014, but in fact will be making smaller payments prior to the 2014/2015 season, is a particularly lucrative deal that eclipses the £25million paid to Barcelona by the Qatar Foundation.
At the same time, renegotiations with Nike over their long-standing kit manufacturing sponsorship rights are rumoured to provide Manchester United with up to $1billion in revenue, which could start as early as next season. Similarly, during the Glazer era, Manchester United shirt sales have equalled or bettered Real Madrid and Barcelona, with the three European powerhouses being some way ahead of the rest of the pack in terms of revenues from replica kits.
Despite the Glazers reducing club debt to the lowest level since their controversial takeover, announced in November 2012 to be below the £400million mark, as a result of floating shares on the New York stock exchange, United fans still remain relatively hard-line about their American owners.
There is a growing fear that the Glazers aren’t in it for the long haul, and through their debt-based takeover have created a system at Old Trafford that is unsustainable. With Sir Alex Ferguson edging closer and closer to retirement – although I’m sure he’d rather die in office – there is a sense growing amongst the United faithful that they are coming to the end of an era, whilst the final members of class of 92, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, also face the decision at the end of each season whether or not to hang up their boots.
Whilst things have been going well on the pitch for United, the Glaziers have reaped the rewards on the business side of things, but there is a concern that could all change as one era comes to an end. Fans have pointed to limited investments in the transfer market, in comparison to Chelsea and Manchester City, which in years to come could severely damage the talent of the first team. Similarly, at the same time, much of business success can be attributed to Chief Executive David Gill, as much as it can the Glazers themselves, who have been lining their pockets in the mean time.
The true test of the American owners’ loyalty will come when the club hits hard times on the pitch. Should they fill their briefcases with every inch of United money they can get their hands on and run back to their native country, the anti-Glazerites will be proved right. However, should they stick around and try and protect their investment, their reputation will change for the better.
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