May 11, 2021

Sports Legend

Manchester United: American owners’ turbulent history of investing in Premier League clubs


A former Manchester United CEO – Peter Kenyon – agrees with this characterization of the former owners of his team.

“I’m not sure the people who are at this club now know what the club is.”

The postponement of the Manchester United-Liverpool game on Sunday due to fan protests – which at times turned ugly – highlighted the dissatisfaction of many supporters with the way the Glazer family have managed the Premier’s most successful team. League.
Fans are seen protesting Manchester United's ownership of Glazer outside the stadium.

Police estimate more than 1,000 protesters stormed the grounds of United’s Old Trafford Stadium ahead of the game against Liverpool.

Some 200 people also gathered outside the Lowry Hotel in Salford, where United players were staying ahead of the game, to protest against the club’s US owners.

In response to the protest, Manchester United issued a statement saying: “The club do not want to see peaceful protesters punished, but will work with police to identify those involved in criminal activity and will also impose their own penalties on any subscriptions. Holder or Identified Member … We remain committed to dialogue and engagement with our fans through the Fan Forum and other appropriate channels. ”
United fans’ unhappiness with the Glazers intensified after six of England’s top clubs signed up last month to join the European Super League (ESL) – a multibillion-dollar competition made up of 12 of the biggest European football teams. Manchester United was one of the 12 clubs.

Although the business has collapsed less than 48 hours after its first announcement, the lack of consultation with fans has galvanized many supporters – not just at United – who intend to reclaim some semblance of control which they pay a lot. money to watch.

The six founding members of the Premier League eventually withdrew from ESL, starting with Chelsea and Manchester City, following much criticism from fans, the media, politicians and even royalty.

Arsenal and Liverpool’s involvement in the failed Super League project has also sparked unhappiness among fans for their respective owners, Kroenke and Henry – as well as Liverpool president Tom Werner.

Arsenal, for example, charge fans up to $ 132 to attend a game.

On Monday, the Premier League issued a statement saying it recognizes “the strength of sentiment and the right of fans to know what is going on” when responding to the Old Trafford protests.

“We are committed to maintaining a close dialogue with supporters and their representatives, as we work with the FA and the government to identify solutions, but we call for all protests to be peaceful,” the statement added.

CNN has reached out to the Glazer family, Kroenke and Henry for their comment.

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The United Trinity statue is seen as fans protest Manchester United's ownership of Glazer outside the stadium.

Debt

Since taking over Manchester United in 2005, the Glazer family – who also own the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers – have never really convinced fans.

“After sixteen years, no member of the Glazer family has ever had more than a conversation with us,” Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST), a group of more than 200,000 club supporters, said on Monday in a statement. communicated.

When the Glazer family took over the club, fans who spoke to CNN feared he was burdened with debt and the family was only interested in his brand, rivaled only by Real Madrid, and his income. Manchester United were a debt-free club before the Glazers bought the team.

According to the club’s latest accounts released on March 4, 2021, the club’s net debt stands at $ 630.7million (£ 455.5million). As of December 2019, before the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the club’s net debt had reached $ 283.16 million (£ 203.6 million).

Joel and Avram Glazer watch as they attend a training session.

The Glazer’s priority is success on the pitch and the family can report a net investment of $ 240.3 million (€ 200 million) in player acquisitions over the past two years, which is more than anything. another big European club. It has totaled more than $ 1.081 billion (900 million euros) since 2013.

Sunday was not the first time United fans have staged a protest. In 2010, MUST held a protest in which fans wore green and gold scarves to matches, the club’s original colors – ditching the ironic red and white ties.

As the Glazers report a meteoric rise in the club’s business income, MUST is calling for a more fan-focused ownership model after Sunday’s protests.

In its Monday statement, MUST laid out a four-point plan to “rebalance the current ownership structure in favor of supporters,” demanding a response from the Glazers by Friday.

Part of that plan called for an “action plan” that would give fans voting rights similar to those of the Glazer family.

One of the points is that Manchester United fans are offered the option to buy Glazer family shares in the club until they are ‘reduced to a minority or even bought back’.

This type of model is a nod to the 50 + 1 ownership rule that prevails in German football, where external investors and business partners – such as Audi or Adidas – are not allowed to take control, ensuring rather that the members, often also the fans, retain the majority. ownership of clubs.
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Arsenal Stan Kroenke looks on ahead of the FA Cup Final between Aston Villa and Arsenal.

Genius out of the bottle

While Manchester United and the Glazers are currently in the spotlight, fans have directed their anger at other US-based owners in recent weeks over their participation in ESL.

At Arsenal, protests took place a few weekends ago outside the Emirates Stadium in London, demanding that Kroenke sell his shares in the club.

Although Daniel Ek, Arsenal fan and founder of Spotify, has announced his intention to submit a bid for the club, Kroenke has insisted there is no intention to sell.

At Liverpool, who pride themselves on being close to their fans – symbolized by a slogan ‘It means more’ – the news that the club had signed up for ESL has not been well received.

Liverpool owner John W. Henry (left) and chairman Tom Werner after the Champions League final at the Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid.

Subsequently, in a video posted to Liverpool’s social media, club owner Henry, considered one of the Super League’s main drivers, made a contrite figure.

“In the last 48 hours you’ve been very clear that this won’t hold up. We heard you. I heard you. And I want to apologize to Jurgen. [Klopp, manager], Billy [Hogan, CEO], to the players and all those who work so hard at Liverpool to make our fans proud, “said Henry, owner of MLB Giants Boston Red Sox.” They have absolutely no responsibility for this disturbance.

“They were the most disturbed, and unfairly. That’s what hurts the most. They love their club and work to make you proud every day. I know the whole Liverpool team has the expertise, the leadership. and the passion to rebuild trust and help. We move forward. ”

Joseph DaGrosa, a US investor and chairman of football group Kapital who has had ownership discussions with Premier League clubs in the past, says the current owners have encountered problems by “watching[ing] to club ownership as to owning any other business – that is, with the goal of profit above all in their minds ”

“We never believed the Super League would move forward because we knew it would never get the support of the fans,” DaGrosa told CNN Sport.

“While we were not at all surprised by the actual reaction from the fans, we were surprised at how quickly the situation escalated and the protests that took place.”

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Arsenal fans hold signs during a protest against club owner Stan Kroenke.

The specific outcome that protesting fans want varies.

Some would like to see different owners in their clubs, while others would like to see the 50 + 1 ownership model used in Germany to be implemented in the UK, but the message is clear: no more to the perception of stripping of Club assets, or Owners who focus solely on income generation.

Whether the UK government would step in to implement legislation to change the fabric of football ownership laws remains unclear.

However, what the last few weeks have shown is that the genius is out of the bottle – fans want to see these English clubs really listen to them.