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Last Updated: Monday, 13 June, 2005, 14:10 GMT 15:10 UK
How are football shares faring?
Bill Wilson
BBC News business reporter

Jarosik of Chelsea takes on Babayaro of Newcastle United
Chelsea (blue) left the stock market, while Newcastle remains

An era of football financing seems set to end.

Almost all of Manchester United's shares are now in the hands of billionaire businessman Malcolm Glazer, who is now preparing to take the club off the London stock exchange.

If the world's most successful football company can be delisted, fans and investors in other clubs will be dusting off their shares and asking what the future holds.

Many of the football clubs which floated in the mid-to-late 1990s now find themselves worth a fraction of their original flotation price.

Throughout the intervening years, they have been beset by problems ranging from over-valuation on flotation and the dotcom crash, to high player wages.

Keen to attract the best players, many football companies failed to keep their wage bill in check - although the Deloitte football finance report released earlier in June shows pay growth has slowed again recently.

I would not be surprised if a number of other club shares are not eventually delisted... to be honest, most football shares have done pretty badly
Harry Philp, Inner Circle Sports

Clubs have also failed to deliver the hoped-for profits from digital and other media rights as quickly or as handsomely as was once expected.

Off the cards

Now it appears only die-hard fans would be prepared to invest in football shares. And it seems most unlikely that there could be a repeat of the rush to float.

"It is possible that a top club like Arsenal could seek a full flotation," says Vinay Bedi, football analyst at stockbrokers Wise Speke.

"I don't say it will never, ever, happen again - but it would have to be a top club playing in Europe every season. For a club like Arsenal, it would be a significant way to raise significant amounts of money.

"For other clubs, such as mid-table Premiership, or a "yo-yo club" going up and down between Premiership and Championship, I think it is unlikely."

Sunderland's Stadium of Light ground
Flotation helped Sunderland build its Stadium of Light

He points to the examples of North-East football clubs Newcastle United and Sunderland, whose forays onto the stock market failed to bring about the financial success they wanted.

When Newcastle floated at 135p in 1997, the issue was over-subscribed and thousands of supporters paid roughly 500 for a stake in the club. The shares are now trading at around 44p.

"The reality is that they have never really got back to anywhere near their float level," says Mr Bedi. "It had a little move upwards after flotation but it has been a generally downwards pattern ever since."

Mr Bedi said club chairman Freddy Shepherd, who owns more than 32 million shares in the company - a stake of about 22% - might be interested in boosting his holding.

A large chunk of the club is in the hands of the Hall family who may, according to Mr Bedi, be eventually willing "to sell, if they could get a premium price".

'Started to deteriorate'

A little way down the North East coast, Sunderland delisted its shares last autumn after floating on the stock market in December 1996.

Clubs with listed shares
Arsenal (Holdings)
Aston Villa
Birmingham City
Charlton Athletic
Heart of Midlothian
Manchester United
Manchester City - Ofex
Millwall (Holdings)
Newcastle United
Preston North End
Rangers - Ofex
Sheffield United
Southampton (Leisure)
Tottenham Hotspur
Watford (Leisure)
West Bromwich Albion

The company said there was little potential in the foreseeable future for raising further capital on the stock exchange.

It remains a public limited company with shareholders, but will no longer be listed on the stock exchange.

Shares went on sale at 585p, valuing the club at 62m. The float raised 10.7m, allowing the club to build the Stadium of Light.

When they delisted, the shares were worth 31.4p each.

"Here again, the initial share price went up after listing," says Mr Bedi.

"They then also started to deteriorate and were not helped by Sunderland's recent number of promotions and relegations.

"Being relegated from the Premier League cost the club television revenue and gates also fell."

'Not trading'

As well as Sunderland, a number of other clubs have withdrawn their listings over the years, including Aberdeen, Bolton, and Chelsea, which was bought by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.

Rangers (blue) play Celtic in a Glasgow derby
Big shareholders guaranteed recent share sales at Rangers and Celtic

"I would not be surprised if a number of other club shares are eventually delisted. To be honest most football shares have done pretty badly," says analyst Harry Philp at football consultancy Inner Circle Sports.

"The reason has generally to be with high football issues, such as high levels of wages and the power of the players."

He said recent share issues at Glasgow rivals Rangers and Celtic were underwritten by major shareholders already at the clubs - David Murray at Rangers and Dermott Desmond at Celtic.

"Most of football shares are not actually being traded," says Mr Philp.

"The only ones buying in are fans who do not already have shares, they are buying for sentimental reasons to have a share in their clubs.

"Other fans, who bought shares initially, are wary about getting their fingers burnt again."

Top football clubs rein in wages
07 Jun 05 |  Business
Football improving business sense
25 Nov 04 |  Business

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