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Monday, September 7, 1998 Published at 15:02 GMT 16:02 UK

Man Utd: the jewel in football's crown

Manchester United fans have snapped up the club's merchandise

No wonder Rupert Murdoch chose to hold takeover talks with Manchester United rather than any other Premier League football club.

Murdoch's big match
Quite simply Manchester United is in a financial league of its own.

The Red Devils have dominated the English Premier League in the 1990s and can call upon a global support of millions.

This huge base ensures it has become the most profitable club in the world.

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While some Premier League clubs have struggled to make a profit, Manchester United's fortunes have gone from strength to strength.

Its pre-tax earnings have jumped from just £4m in 1993 to £27.6m in 1997.

This astonishing growth can be put partly down to success on the pitch.

Over the last few years Manchester United has played to capacity crowds as it has won a clutch of league titles and cups.

Winning ways

As it has returned to winning ways the club has been able to command multi-million pound sponsorship deals with the likes of Sharp.

But it is not just a bulging trophy cabinet that has helped transform Manchester United's financial fortunes.

Under chairman Martin Edwards, Manchester United has turned itself into a highly profitable brand, rather than a mere football club.

Fans have queued up to by anything from soap to replica shirts emblazoned with the club logo.

Rocketing sales

The club now earns almost as much from merchandising as it does from gate receipts. Sales have rocketed and the club has plans to expand overseas sales rapidly by opening retail outlets in the Far East.

A restaurant and museum have helped turned the club's ground Old Trafford into a tourist attraction.

Despite the sharp growth in profits BSkyB is after a much bigger prize.

Manchester United stands at the forefront of a footballing revolution that threatens to change the face of the game across Europe.

Super prospects

The club could become an integral part of a new European Super League, where it will play the continent's biggest and best clubs on a regular basis.

The money involved could be huge, adding tens of millions of pounds to Manchester United's revenues every year.

Then there is pay per view, where fans will have to stump up money to watch their favourite club on the television. By buying Manchester United, BSkyB will be able to get direct access to a potentially huge market.

Competition concerns

Indeed an independent Manchester United poses a threat to BSkyB's continued dominance of Britain's national sport.

BSkyB has paid a huge amount, £647m, for the exclusive right to screen Premiership games for the four years to 2001.

But Manchester United has recently set up its own television channel, which analysts believe it could use to screen live matches after 2001.

If the club chose to go it alone, BSkyB would lose its football broadcasting monopoly.

What better way to eradicate the threat than to buy up the club.

Bargain hunting

BSkyB also wants to make sure that Manchester United games will be at the centrepiece of its new Digital television offering, launched this year.

By buying Manchester United, BSkyB will scupper attempts by On Digital, a rival digital service provided by between media groups Granada and Carlton, to sign up the club.

If BSkyB does manage to buy Manchester United for the rumoured £575m it may well have picked up a bargain.

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