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Robert Trigaux

Buyers want Manchester United soccer team from leveraged Bucs-owning Glazer family



GlazerManUprotest2010ShaunBotterillGetty Images Wake up and good morning. More than one wealthy group wants to buy England's Manchester United soccer team from the Glazer family, owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (Photo: Fans protest Glazer ownership of "ManU" this year. Shaun Botterill/Getty Images.)

That may come as little surprise to those who track the Manchester United scene, which has been rife with discontent by fans and by the Glazers' recent activity in refinancing more than $1 billion (a sum that some critics call overleveraged) based on Manchester United's assets.

The effect of that refinancing, according to this story in The Irish Times, is to turn Manchester United from the richest soccer club to the most indebted. The story also outlines how members of the Glazer family received hefty individual loans -- millions of dollars each to owner Malcolm Glazer's five sons and one daughter -- based on the Manchester United refinancing. (Photo lower right: Joel Glazer, Avram Glazer and Bryan Glazer, sons of owner Malcolm Glazer, before a Manchester United match in 2005. Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images.)

But this morning there are some details. Reuters reports, among other wire services, that a group of wealthy supporters may bid for "ManU" though the club's billionaire U.S. owners say it is not for sale. The "Red Knights," a collection of individuals including former Football (that is, soccer) League chairman Keith Harris, said on Tuesday they were looking at the feasibility of putting together a bid for the world's third richest soccer club.

GlazerManUJoel AvramBryan GlazerChampionsLeague2005CliveBrunskillGettyImages Separately, the Financial Times reports this morning that a group including Goldman Sachs Group chief economist Jim O’Neill and Marshall Wace LLP founder Paul Marshall also may make an offer for United. Here's an excerpt from the FT story:

"Mr O'Neill, a former United board member, organised a meeting of City financiers and advisers yesterday at the offices of Freshfields, the law firm, to discuss the idea, which seeks to harness the disaffection of fans who want to end the Glazers' regime.

"Among those present was Mark Rawlinson, the Freshfields partner and another Mancunian, who acted for the club when it was a public company and advised it in 2005 on its efforts to prevent the Glazers' hostile takeover; Keith Harris, the football financier and chairman of Seymour Pierce investment bank who wants fans to boycott games; and Paul Marshall of Marshall Wace, the hedge fund.

"The group has taken on Finsbury, the public relations outfit, and believes it can muster a fund of about £1bn to buy the club.

"But even if it raises such a sum, the toughest part may be getting the Glazers to sell. The US-based Glazers, having just secured a £500m bond issue for re-financing, have shown no signs of wishing to offload the club. A spokesman for the family said: "Manchester United is not for sale."

In all these pre-dawn battle preparations, of course, two lingering questions remain: What is the status of Malcolm Glazer, the aged patriarch of the Glazer family who suffered a stroke in 2006 and has not been publicly seen since? And what is the message the Glazers are sending about their financial status as owners of the Bucs by borrowing so heavily against Manchester United?

The last peep we've heard from National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell was a vote of confidence issued just before the Super Bowl in February in the Glazers. Said Goodell:

"They are sound owners. They are terrific for the NFL and we don't see any factors that would stress any of their sports teams or other operations."

But these buyer groups gunning for Manchester United are not going to go away quietly. The Glazers may not want to sell ManU. But borrowing more than $1 billion against the team makes them more vulnerable if their finances should get squeezed in this difficult economy.

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 11:27am]


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