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Wednesday, September 9, 1998 Published at 00:53 GMT 01:53 UK


Business: The Company File

Fury as football enters new era

The fans don't like it

Fans and football enthusiasts have reacted with fury to BSkyB's £625m bid being accepted by Manchester United for the sale of the club.

But a city expert believes the deal will go ahead, saying it is just the beginning of a leisure industry which will grow around the UK's top clubs.


Joe Ashton MP: "Can't be fair ... or be in the public interest"
Siding with the fans, chariman of the all-party football group, MP Joe Ashton told BBC's Newsnight he was not confident that the deal would get past the Office of Fair Trading.

He said: "What Murdoch is trying to do is sit on both sides of the table at once.

"He wants to sit on one side for Sky offering deals for showing matches, then sit there for Manchester United accepting them.


[ image: Joe Ashton MP: 'Murdoch is trying to sit on both sides of the table at once']
Joe Ashton MP: 'Murdoch is trying to sit on both sides of the table at once'
"That can't be fair trading or be in the public interest."

Fans are fearful of where the deal will take the club - and the spirit of the game.

And they warn that they have the power to make or break the club.

Gillian Howarth, secretary of the Independent Manchester United Supporters' Association, said: "With that sum of money I suppose it was inevitable they would accept but it proves that they don't listen to the backbone of the club - to the match-going supporters who don't want the deal.

"They don't take our views into account, but that doesn't surprise me either. Money talks."

As a shareholder, Ms Howarth has seen her equity in the club rise in value from below £2 per share on Monday to an estimated £2.40 on Wednesday.


[ image: Rupert Murdoch: Will his deal get past the Office of Fair Trading?]
Rupert Murdoch: Will his deal get past the Office of Fair Trading?
But she added: "I would never sell no matter how high they go.

"I have my shares because I want to be part of the club. I want to be able to vote at the AGM, I didn't buy them for any financial reason.

"There has been a slippery slide into commercialism for a while but at some stage the fans will stand up and say enough is enough."

But Justin Urquhart-Stewart, development director of Barclays Stockbrokers Ltd, told BBC News Online that the deal would not result in a monopoly.

He said: "It is unlikely to be a monopoly on the basis that they do not control the league.

"They do not have a monopoly on broadcasting and they can hardly form a league just of Manchester United.

"It does take the shine off the deal that they will have to wait for it to go before the OFT and the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, that could take anything between three or four months.


[ image: Players aren't just sportsmen - they're superstars]
Players aren't just sportsmen - they're superstars
"I suspect before then what they will try to do is to reach an accord where they will voluntarily establish mechanisms to prevent them abusing the position."

Mr Urquhart Stewart said that top clubs would continue to attract interest - from leisure groups as well as media empires - which would be good news for shareholders.

"This is a leisure business. They are, in fact, an embryonic leisure business," he said.

"We will see this more and more - clubs becoming multi-sport businesses with other leisure facilities around them - eating places, drinking places."

Idols

And he said because of the massive earning potential of top clubs, the multi-million pound price tag for Manchester United was not excessive.

"I don't think they have paid over the odds. You are buying a world brand here," he added.

Before the deal was finalised, the club's manager Alex Ferguson backed football as more than just a sport.

He told the Sun newspaper: "Sky TV has been good for football."

He said: "I think Sky has done a fantastic job. Whereas in the 1960s Albert Finney, Richard Burton and Tom Courtenay were the stars, they've now been replaced as idols by the footballers."





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The Company File Contents

Relevant Stories

08 Sep 98 | Business
United accept BSkyB offer

06 Sep 98 | Football
Fast facts on Man Utd





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Office of Fair trading

Manchester United official web site

Monopolies and Mergers Commission


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