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Glazers' statement does little to reassure Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans

The headlines began to trickle out early Monday morning.

A months-long investigation in England indicated the Glazer family had greater debts than previously known and further suggested their real estate holdings in U.S. shopping centers were on shaky ground. There were details, and there was documentation.

And I can just imagine Donald Penn spitting up a spoonful of fat-free yogurt at the breakfast table.

Forget the raises. Forget the long-term contracts. And unless Capital One has a credit card with a $1.6 billion limit, you might want to forget high-priced free agents for the foreseeable future.

We have known for quite some time that the Buccaneers have been spending less money on payroll than any team in the NFL, and now we have further indication that it is more of a necessity than a strategy.

Buying Manchester United five years ago might have done wonders for the Glazers' business portfolio, but it has not been a boon for the Bucs. Relative to the rest of the league, their payroll has shrunk. Their once-obvious desire to win at all costs has waned.

And now, based on the investigation of British financial analyst Andy Green, there is reason to wonder when, if ever, the Bucs will get back to being among the league's flagship franchises.

"I don't want to give the impression that they are about to go bankrupt. They have two very valuable sports franchises worth billions," Green said by phone Monday. "The problem is they are sitting on top of a very large amount of debt.

"It's like living in a big house with a large mortgage. Everything is fine when the economy is going well and you're making your payments. But if you lose your job, you're not going to be able to support that debt.

"To deal with the debt, they have to take a lot of money out of United. So do they just play it out and hope that the supporters don't get too agitated? I just think they made some errors with their (loans) in 2005 and it worries me. Malcolm Glazer is probably a very savvy guy. Whether his children have the same sort of business skill, I'm quite doubtful."

The Glazers have never denied that they took on debt when they bought the world's premier soccer franchise. What Green's research seems to reveal is the debt is larger than anyone had imagined. That instead of owing $1.1 billion, the figure is closer to $1.6 billion.

Green, a consultant for the anti-Glazer group Manchester United Supporters Trust, went through public records and discovered the Glazers used their real estate holdings to borrow money around the same time they were purchasing the soccer team.

According to Green, the Glazers have already walked away from four bankrupt shopping centers and currently owe more than the rest of their dozens of shopping malls are worth. Green's work was reviewed and, seemingly, affirmed by the BBC in England.

His research can be found at andersred.blogspot.com.

Asked if they wanted to talk about the BBC report, the Glazers instead released a statement through a team spokesman. Four paragraphs. Six sentences. Three commas. And too many lingering questions to count.

The statement did not dispute Green's numbers. And it seemed to acknowledge the loans secured against the shopping centers. It stated Glazer companies "generate revenues in excess of $800 million each year" but did not address expenses or interest payments.

"It was a very interesting way of putting it. Based on my numbers the ($800 million) looks quite right. It's probably true," Green said. "But it's like me buying a bunch of big TVs, and then selling them for less than I paid. I'm going to have a lot of revenues, but I'm still losing money. I'm not sure that proves anything."

So are Green's numbers 100 percent accurate?

I'm sure they're not.

From the outside, it's impossible to accurately judge a business enterprise of this size. On the other hand, there is a ton of circumstantial evidence that the Glazers have had some cash flow problems.

So here's a thought:

Try being honest.

The Glazers should show up at FanFest 11 days from now and actually answer unfiltered questions from fans. After all, these family members should be heroes in Tampa Bay. They saved the franchise from possibly being moved in the 1990s, and they won a Super Bowl in 2002. That kind of track record earns you a certain amount of goodwill.

The problem is obfuscation and deception are not easily forgiven.

What the Glazers seem to know is that shrewd business people can always come up with money. They can cut expenses, they can borrow, they can move dollars from here to there.

What they don't realize is that faith is harder to come by.

And losing it comes at a high cost.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

Glazers' statement does little to reassure Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans 06/07/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 8, 2010 10:45am]
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