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

Australian Four Four Two - - JUNE 2015 -

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

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