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Glazers deny trouble after debt report

TAMPA — The Glazers' message to Bucs fans was clear Monday: The family is not siphoning profits from its NFL team to offset debt of more than $1 billion from ownership of the Manchester United soccer club.

In fact, the Glazers say their companies generate revenues of $800 million a year and that each business — including the Bucs and Man U — is "independent and self-sufficient."

In a four-paragraph statement from Bucs director of communications Jonathan Grella, the team responded to a BBC report stating the Glazer family is $1.6 billion in debt, including $95 million borrowed against the Bucs.

"Buccaneers fans should know that the Glazer family is as financially well-positioned as ever before," Grella said. "Companies they own generate revenues in excess of $800 million each year.

"This franchise remains committed to bringing the resources to build its next championship team."

According to the report published Monday, "mortgage documents seen by the BBC show that the Glazers have borrowed ($570 million) against shopping malls and ($95 million) against … the Buccaneers." That's nearly $600 million more debt than originally suspected, the BBC said.

Forbes magazine has estimated the Manchester United franchise is worth $1.7 billion and the Bucs as much as $1.1 billion.

The Glazers also own First Allied Corp., which operates shopping malls.

"Sophisticated real estate experts know that the family's refinancing of their commercial real estate before the global meltdown has proven to be the wise move," Grella said.

"While First Allied represents only a small portion of their asset portfolio, it continues to generate significant profits, enjoys over 90 percent occupancy and has long term non-recourse financing."

Bucs fans had reason to be skeptical of the Glazers' commitment to the team before the BBC report. A year ago, NFL.com reported that the Bucs had spent less in player salaries and bonuses than any NFL team in the past five seasons.

The Glazers assumed control of Man U in 2005 in a leveraged buyout worth $1.4 billion.

In an interview with the St. Petersburg Times in March, Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer disputed speculation that the family's debt on Man U was responsible for the failure to sign high-priced talent for the Bucs.

"There are a lot of owners that own a lot of other businesses. They're just not the high-profile nature that is easy for people to write about and talk about," Glazer said. "Tampa has always operated independently and is sustained. It's very healthy. Unfortunately, there are a couple of events that have been happening at the same time that give the appearance — and I can understand why people say that or think that.

"The big money for all teams is spent by re-signing your own guys. The draft picks generally come cheaper. Then you re-sign them. And those are the big contracts. Again … you go back five years and look at the drafts we had, and the lack of some draft picks a little further back. Those are all guys — four, five, six, seven, eight people — whose contracts would have been coming up in the last two or three years, who all would've gotten nice, big contracts. Contracts I would be happy to be sitting here writing because that would mean we drafted well, we had good players and we're re-signing them to long-term deals. So we have this void the last three or four years. It doesn't take very long to spend $30 (million) or $40 million in the National Football League."

Fans of Man U likely had the same concerns in June 2009, when the English Premier League club sold star Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid for $131.6 million.

At the Super Bowl in February, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell indicated the Glazers are financially viable enough to operate both professional franchises.

"I talk to the Glazers on a regular basis. I will tell you that they are sound owners. They are terrific for the NFL, and we have not seen that there is any stress that would affect the way they operate any of their professional teams, much less the Tampa Bay Buccaneers."

What this means

A BBC report Monday that the Glazer family is $600 million further in debt that previously thought — and their debt was thought to be $1 billion — can be measured in a few ways.

First, the Glazers have said they have assets totaling $2.9 billion — and most of that value comes from their two high-profile sports teams, the Bucs and English soccer power Manchester United.

The Glazers took on heavy debt to buy Man U, which, according to Forbes magazine's recently estimated worth of $1.7 billion, is the most valuable soccer team in the world.

This year, according to Forbes' website, Man U became the first English soccer team to issue high-yield bonds, aiming to secure $800 million. The Glazers took over United in 2005 in a leveraged buyout worth $1.4 billion.

"I don't think anybody can be satisfied with how Manchester United are being run," Dave Whelan, chairman of Premier League club Wigan, told the BBC program Panorama.

There's another factor to consider in this story: The research for the BBC was carried out by Andy Green, a London financial analyst who is part of a campaign by disgruntled United fans to oust the Glazers.

What do you think?

Are you concerned about the Glazers' finances?

Vote in our poll at bucs.tampabay.com.

Glazers deny trouble after debt report 06/07/10 [Last modified: Monday, June 7, 2010 11:55pm]
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