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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 December 2005, 00:00 GMT
Man Utd's Glazers face new challenges
By Bill Wilson
BBC News business reporter

Glazer brothers (from left) Bryan, Avram and Joel
The Glazers are all smiles despite a mixed season on the field of play

Six months after the Glazer family swept into Manchester United's boardroom in a controversial takeover deal, the predicted dramatic financial turmoil has not been seen.

The football club's major personnel, including team manager Alex Ferguson and chief executive David Gill remain in place.

Threatened boycotts by season-ticket holders have failed to hit attendances - and hence the balance sheet - with the Old Trafford stadium 99.4% full for matches this season.

Family head Malcolm Glazer has been an invisible presence, while his sons Joel, Avi, and Brian have insisted it is business as usual. Without making any overtly threatening noises, they have continued to familiarise themselves behind the scenes of the club.

The trio have been seen at home matches and have made sure they allied themselves to popular figures such as Sir Bobby Charlton.

At the time of the takeover, there was speculation the Glazers would sell and lease back Old Trafford to service their huge debts, something which would have had many supporters raging.

But Joel Glazer denied this on the club's MUTV channel.

Importantly, they have also made soothing sounds towards the game's authorities, promising the Premier League they have no plans to break away from collective bargaining over TV rights.

European elimination

However, it has not all been plain sailing: United has seen its sponsorship deal with mobile phone giant Vodafone end early.

The latest deal, worth about 9m ($15.5m) a year, began only last season and will now end in May 2006.

But the family has presented this as a mutually-agreed decision that allows it to seek out an new more-lucrative deal, perhaps approaching the levels of Juventus' 15m a year deal with Tamoil or Real Madrid's new 16m annual agreement with BenQ.

Ruud van Nistelrooy ponders Manchester United's defeat to Benfica
United's defeat at Benfica saw them exit the Champions League

There will be an increase in season-ticket and match-day revenues from the 2006/07 season, when Old Trafford will be expanded to 75,000 seats from the current capacity in the region of 68,000.

More of a blow, to both prestige and income, has been the club's failure - after defeat by Benfica - to qualify for the next round of the Champions League, or indeed for the consolation prize of Uefa Cup football.

The club has earned about 11.6m from the Champions League, made up of home match income (6m), Uefa prize money and bonuses (2.93m), and a small slice (2.65m) of the Uefa "market pool" from media rights.

Progressing onwards in the tournament could have earned them anything between 15m and 32.2m, but the family insisted it was not essential to their business plan.

And Harry Philp, managing director of Hermes Sports Partners financial advisers, says: "It is a blow, but not as great as some are putting it.

Businesses in Asia still put great credence in the Manchester United name and they may be looking there for their next sponsorship deal
Harry Philp, Hermes Sports Partners

"We don't know what is in the business plan with regard to the Champions League - we have heard it is a question of just budgeting for the group stage every year.

"Others have said it is that from this first year, then the quarter-finals for each year after that."

However, Mr Philp also points out that if the club had qualified for the consolation prize of the Uefa Cup by finishing third in its Champions League group, that would have brought in extra prize money.

Competing in the junior competition would also have offered extra revenues in gate money and TV rights.

'No major impact'

But Mr Philp says losing out on these extra millions need not hit the Glazer business plan, which is built on a number of debts which are structured to have low repayments in the early years.

"With regard to the bank debt and other loans, the initial repayments are so low, going out of Europe is not going to have a massive impact," he says.

"It is easy for some critics to say this is the start of the end - but the debt is so back-loaded it is not going to impact immediately."

Manchester United fans wearing RIP armbands
Many fans see the takeover as ultimately lethal to the club

But he adds: "Going out of the Champions League is not good news for trying to find a new sponsor.

"They might come up with a deal somewhere in the 9m to 16m a year range, and would be hoping for the top level enjoyed by the likes of Juventus and Real Madrid.

"But it may be they are not going to get much more than 9m, compared to what they might have commanded if they were still a force in Europe.

"Businesses in Asia still put great credence in the Manchester United name and they may be looking there for their next sponsorship deal."

Bond issue?

The club says it has no plans for a dual shirt-naming rights deal which also includes renaming the stadium, such as Arsenal has with Emirates airline for its new north London arena, but neither have the Glazers ruled out such a separate move.

Mr Philp says another priority for the family is to eliminate the 267m of debt they loaded onto the club when they took over.

"We very much expect them to get rid of the senior debt as soon as they can - they may offer some kind of bond issue to spread it out over a 25-year period, and backed by season ticket revenue."

'Team lacking'

Mr Philp said the other major issue for the Glazers would be improving the team, so that it could be market leader on the pitch once again in order to enhance commercial standing off it.

"Look at champions Chelsea and their 11m a year deal with Samsung - that is what Manchester United will be looking for.

Manchester United's home stadium of Old Trafford
There may be new players as well as fans at United from 2006/07

"But clearly the team at present is lacking. They clearly need to do something - the Glazers have said there is going to be money made available for transfers.

"However, it remains to be seen how much will be made available."

Meanwhile, the Glazers appear to be sanguine about the present situation, with United off the pace from league leaders Chelsea.

After they crashed out of the Champions League, a Glazer spokesman said it had "no bearing on the family's long-term ownership of Manchester United" and that there was enough "slack" in the family investment to deal with the situation.

However, much will be determined in the coming year as the club chases a new lucrative money-spinning deal, with just five months before the Vodafone deal ends.




SEE ALSO:
Vodafone ends Man Utd shirt deal
23 Nov 05 |  Business


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