Twenty years after the Glazer family acquired Manchester United, the American owners of the team have started considering their options, including a potential sale or new investment.
The Old Trafford club said in a statement that the Glazer family is collaborating with financial advisors on the process, which could result in investments such as stadium and infrastructure redevelopment or a partial sale of the team.
Manchester United fans have been clamouring for a change of ownership and the Glazers have been the target of intense criticism as the team, which has a record 13 English Premier League titles, have gone five years without winning a trophy. The last silverware they won was the Europa League and League Cup back in 2017.
“As we seek to continue building on the club’s history of success, the board has authorized a thorough evaluation of strategic alternatives,” Avram Glazer and Joel Glazer, executive co-chairmen and directors of United, said in the statement.
“We will evaluate all options to ensure that we best serve our fans and that Manchester United maximizes the significant growth opportunities available to the club today and in the future,” the statement said.
Its sale may attract high-profile investors.
In August, British billionaire and a long-standing fan of the club, Jim Ratcliffe had expressed interest in buying United, Reuters reported. At the time, Elon Musk had also joked about planning to buy the club. Chemical firm INEOS, where Ratcliffe is chairman, declined to comment on Wednesday.
Manchester United shares jumped as much as 10% in pre-market trade on the New York Stock Exchange, building on the more than 14% rise after news of the sales process on Tuesday afternoon.
Its Frankfurt-listed shares rose 7.2% to their highest level since Sept. 21, albeit in very light volumes.
The company was worth $2.5 billion at the close of U.S. trading on Tuesday, but the shares are only slightly above their 2012 IPO price of $14.
The club’s capitalisation as a public company peaked at $4.3 billion in 2018.
Asian tycoons, especially those from China, have been buying European teams in recent years including Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers and Italy’s Inter Milan.
However, football clubs have since been deemed unfavourable assets by China and any major overseas purchase would seem unlikely at the moment, said Mark Dreyer, Beijing-based author of “Sporting Superpower”, a book about China’s sports ambitions.
“It’s almost impossible to see how any Chinese-related entity could justify a purchase of this magnitude in the current climate,” he said, citing the economic fallout of China’s ongoing battle to contain COVID-19 infections. “No state body would approve this kind of deal.”
The Glazers, who also own National Football League team Tampa Bay Bucccaneers, are under pressure with United sitting fifth in the Premier League halfway through the season, which has been suspended because of the current Qatar World Cup.
More big clubs are in play.
Liverpool chairman Tom Werner has said the Premier League side’s owners Fenway Sports Group(FSG) were exploring a sale of the club.
In May, Roman Abramovich sold Chelsea Football Club to an investment group led by Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital for $3.2 billion (2.5 billion pounds).
Jefferies analysts said they believe ManU would fetch more -the club’s Old Trafford stadium is bigger, the club has more than 1 billion followers, far more than its London rival, and generates more revenue and core profit.
Hargreaves Lansdown senior investment and markets analyst Susannah Streeter estimated the club’s worth at more than $4.5 billion.
Also on Tuesday, the club said that star striker Cristiano Ronaldo will leave with immediate effect, marking a bitter end to the Portugal captain’s second spell at Old Trafford after he said he felt betrayed by the club.
The Glazers bought the club for 790 million pounds ($939.07 million) in 2005 in a highly leveraged deal which has been criticised for loading debt onto the club. They sold 10% of their holding via the 2012 U.S. listing and have sold more shares since.
The Raine Group is acting as financial adviser and Latham & Watkins LLP is the legal adviser to Manchester United.
Rothschild and Co. is acting as financial adviser to the Glazer family shareholders.
Among the fan protests against the Glazers was one in May 2021 that forced the postponement of a home match against Liverpool, one of the club’s biggest rivals. It was the first Premier League match to be postponed because of a protest.
United finished sixth last season in their worst Premier League campaign in terms of points earned, failing to qualify for the lucrative European Champions League competition.
They won the last of their record 20 top-flight league titles in 2013, the year the great Alex Ferguson stepped down as manager after more than 26 years in charge.
The club have hired Dutch manager Erik ten Hag from Ajax Amsterdam in a bid to turn around their fortunes.