Manchester United Back From The Debt?
The ‘Glazer decade’ has seen United win nine major trophies on the pitch and go up in value off it – but at what cost? Players, fans and experts assess 10 years of American ownership
Everything changed for Manchester United 10 years ago when the Glazers wrested control through a leveraged buyout that left the club with a mountain of debt. How has it survived since?
The story of Malcolm Glazer at Manchester United is one laced with contradiction. Here was an intensely private man who fought tooth and nail to own one of sport’s biggest, most high-profile brands. A man with a net worth of $4.4 billion who continued to buy his trousers for $19.95, even taking pleasure in the fact. A man who irrevocably altered the history of Manchester United, reportedly without ever having set foot in Old Trafford. But who was Malcolm Glazer and how did he come to own the club? Malcolm Glazer was born in 1928 in Rochester, New York, the son of Lithuanian immigrants. At the age of eight he went to work for his father’s watch parts business, taking over and expanding the firm after his father died when he was 15. In the 1950s, Glazer quit Rochester’s Sampson College after just six weeks. Fiercely driven, his goal was clear: set about building a business empire that would make as much money as possible. “All gamblers die broke” was a favourite saying of his. After leaving college, Glazer focused his energy on the jewellery business he’d been running in his spare time. He began to turn a profit, eventually expanding his portfolio by dipping into the property market, buying holiday homes and static caravans in Rochester. Other business interests included food service equipment, food packaging, food supplies, marine protein, broadcasting, healthcare, real estate, banking, natural gas and oil production, stocks, bonds and government securities. He had “an eye for value” according to business and finance bible Forbes. Such shrewd business acumen saw Glazer turn to sports franchise ownership in 1995, when he paid a then-record $192 million to buy the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That they’re today valued at $1.2bn tells its own story. Under Glazer, the Bucs moved into a newly built stadium, opened a huge, state-of-the-art training facility and in 2002 won the Super Bowl for the first time in their history. But it wasn’t all roses and coronations. While Glazer “turned this joke of a franchise into one of the most valuable commodities in sports”, as Tampa Bay Times reporter John Romano put it, he earned a reputation as a hard-nosed, shadowy figure who alienated many. Said Romano: “He was an outsider who never sought our love and, subsequently, never gained our trust.” The Manchester United takeover wasn’t the only bitter struggle of Glazer’s professional career. He fought his siblings for 12 years over the rights to his mother’s estate after she died in 1980. And within weeks of taking over at Tampa Bay he threatened to up sticks and move the franchise if a new stadium wasn’t built using taxpayers’ money. “Glazer was a businessman, not a public servant,” Romano notes. The stadium was 100 per cent paid for with public money to the tune of $194m. Judging by his prior dealings, there’s every reason to believe the principal motivation behind Glazer’s purchase of United was profit. A $1.5 billion leveraged buyout plunged one of football’s most profitable football clubs into a mountain of debt. But after the Red Devils announced a new sponsorship deal with Adidas, Wall Street afforded the club a market value of $3bn – an incredible return on their investment should they ever sell up. According to Glazer’s son Joel, who acts as club co-chairman with his brother Avram, the family have long been football fans. “I had a room-mate in college who was from London, and who to this day is still my best friend,” he told MUTV after the takeover in 2005. “Every Saturday morning he’d be there with his little radio trying to pick up the Tottenham games. It was infectious, and the more I learnt about the game over here the more passionate I got.”
The New York Stock Exchange beckoned for United Double Glazed: Joel (left) and NYSE Avram at the Winning the 2002 Super Bowl with the Buccaneers