Manchester United is the third richest sports franchise in the world. It is publicly traded (NYSE: MANU.US), and, although they’ve been relatively weak in the field this season, United have noses and whiskers twitching in the stock market.
Yet a few weeks ago, during the second week in September 2014, Baron Capital Group upped its stake in Manchester United to 15,026,190 shares, which is 37.8% of their publicly traded shares, or 9.2% of the company overall. Currently they have 39,777,957 Class A shares, which each get one vote and are publicly traded. Another 124,000,000 Class B shares are not publicly traded and carry 10 votes each, according to the Manchester Evening News. So why has Ron Baron bought so much of Manchester United?
The Glazer family of Tampa, Florida, has owned Manchester United since 2005. The Glazers own 124,000,000 Class B shares and 11,000,000 Class A shares, leaving the family with majority control, 82% of the economic rights, and 97.7% of the voting rights, according to the Daily Telegraph.
There has been criticism over the ways in which the Glazers deal with investments, but the undeniable fact is that the Glazers have been slowly but surely paying down the debt they created to purchase the team. Thanks to a very savvy Chief Financial Officer in Edward Woodward, the family has increased and diversified the club’s revenue streams — particularly its commercial revenue, which has gone from 27% of the team’s overall revenue in 2007 to 42% last year. Two sponsorship deals, one with General Motors for £78m ($125m) and another which saw a switch in team replica shirt manufacturing from Nike to Adidas put another £750m ($1208m) in United’s coffers. Yet, according to various reliable real estate sources, the Glazers are making a lot of moves.
On the field, the Glazers had no worries as the club’s legendary manager Alex Ferguson took care of all the team’s problems on a shoestring budget until the end of the 2012-2013 season. From 2005 he led the team to a top three finish every year, including four Premier League titles, a League Cup win, a European Champions Cup and two second-place finishes. When Ferguson retired, United mistakenly hired David Moyes, who was sacked after the team got a seventh-place finish, missing out on qualification for European competition. Since then, the club has invested at least £270m ($435m) in new players and a new coach.
With football/soccer unquestionably being by far the most popular sport in the world. Manchester United claim to be the most-watched sports team in the world, their average live audience: 47 million people per game and 659 million fans globally. United also retain rights to their own retail stores, e-commerce site, branded products, and soccer camps. Meanwhile, the value of contracts to broadcast the Premier League and Champions League are on the rise, and will go even higher after the current deals lapse in 2016 and 2018.
The problem for the Glazers? To guarantee profits the team must invest big. New audiences in Asia and North America will maintain expansion. Is there an inevitable saturation point? Ahead of this is the former CEO of Goldman-Sachs and big-time tech start-up investment wizard, Jim O’Neill. Born in Manchester and a lifetime United supporting fanatic, O’Neill has always wanted the club to be owned by true supporters. Indeed, when asked on the mover-and-shaker-worthy Charlie Rose Show on Jan 20, 2012 as to what ambition he had not fulfilled, he said, unequivocally that he longed United to be owned by its own fans under his stewardship.
O’Neill has been trying to take over at United since 2005, as part of a group called The Red Knights before the Glazers ever stepped in, according to the Guardian. Unfortunately, there was never the kind of required unity necessary to bring together British expats like O’Neill and native locals. Now, however, the constellation may be right to return United to its fans. One of Jim O’Neill’s best friends and fellow United fans is the head designer at Apple, Sir Jonathan Ive.
Coincidentally, at the same time, Apple’s shareholders have, according to the Huffington Post, more than $137 BILLION in cash profits doing nothing, much to the irritation of its shareholders and the company CEO, Tim Cook. Therefore, it’s been no surprise at all that there have been restaurant sightings of Cook, Ive, O’Neill and English expatriate billionaires, television producer Mark Burnett and venture capitalist Michael Moritz at Mr. Chow’s in San Francisco. All of it supposedly paid for by Ron Baron.