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Report: Glazer soccer bid near

By JEFF HARRINGTON
Published October 5, 2004

[Times files]
Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer already owns 19.2 percent of Manchester United, the richest soccer team in the world.

MANCHESTER UNITED
HOME:
Manchester, England
STADIUM: Old Trafford; 67,500 seating capacity
LEAGUE: English Premier League
MARKET CAPITALIZATION: $1.3-billion
NICKNAME: Red Devils
FAN SUPPORT: World's biggest soccer club; home games sell out
MOST FAMOUS PLAYERS: George Best, 1963-74, striker; David Beckham, 1993-2003, midfielder; Wayne Rooney, already a star forward at 19.
LEARN MORE: www.manutd.com

Malcolm Glazer, tycoon owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, reportedly plans to bid more than $1.2-billion to take control of British icon Manchester United, the world's richest soccer team.

In a statement Monday, the board of Manchester United confirmed it has received "a preliminary approach regarding a possible offer for the company" without identifying the bidder.

"This approach contains a number of significant conditions," the statement continued. "The company is seeking clarification of this proposal and at this stage it is unclear whether any offer will be made."

Glazer, who has gradually increased his stake in the publicly traded soccer club the past two years to 19.2 percent, declined to comment through a spokesman on the bid. Late Monday, Malcolm's son Joel, who is executive vice president of the Bucs, issued a statement that did not address the Manchester United rumor but expressed a commitment that the Bucs "will continue to remain under my family's ownership."

Reuters and British media identified Glazer as the Manchester bidder, citing anonymous sources. Glazer has hired J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. to represent him and reportedly will pay more than 650-million pounds, or over $1.2-billion in addition to what he already has invested, for ownership of Man United.

British soccer fans have been steaming ever since Glazer showed an interest in building his stake in the team last year. The team is debt-free and highly profitable in marketing one of the best-known global brands in sports.

As recently as March, the Glazer family insisted it "has no current intention to make an offer."

Speculation of an imminent bid has been percolating for weeks, but Monday's confirmation of an apparent change of heart sent soccer fans into a tizzy.

UK Web site forums for soccer fans were filled with vitriol targetting Glazer. Representative of one influential fans group, Shareholders United, held a "Not4Sale" banner protest outside the team's home at Old Trafford on Sunday.

Richard Luscombe, a British journalist who has been freelancing for various London publications while working in Florida the past two years, said it may be hard for Floridians to realize the emotions triggered by such a takeover.

"Manchester United is the crown jewel of English soccer, the world's most famous club, and the fans don't like people tinkering with that at all," Luscombe said.

Luscombe said the ire is only partly fueled by the specter of a Yankee owning their pride and joy. They also object to Glazer's style.

British tabloids have portrayed Glazer as an absentee owner of the Bucs who invested enough to get the team to the Super Bowl but subsequently stuck fans with big ticket price increases.

"All the indications are that Malcolm Glazer is a hands-off guy who makes decisions from miles and miles away," said Luscombe, who acknowledged trying in vain for months to arrange an interview with the reclusive billionaire.

"I suspect (Manchester United fans) would think he's only in it for the money. ... Even if he was a Brit, if he didn't have the best interest of the club, he wouldn't be welcome."

Glazer is not without British supporters, however.

Paul Stewart, a Briton who runs the www.Bucpower.com Web site for UK supporters of the Tampa Bay football team, praised the Glazer family for managing the team to a Super Bowl win. "If the average Manchester United fan realized how successful the Glazers have been with the Buccaneers, they'd be welcoming them with open arms," Stewart said.

Glazer, who lives in Palm Beach, has shown interest in expanding his sports realm beyond the Bucs' franchise before. He considered a bid last year for the Los Angeles Dodgers, before turning his attention and money toward British soccer.

As Glazer built up his shares in the soccer team, some speculated that he merely wanted to drive up the stock for a large cash-out. Indeed, Manchester United's stock price has more than doubled over the past year since Glazer and several other new investors began gobbling up stock.

If Glazer were to bid, he probably would need the support of United's top shareholders, Irish racing tycoons John Magnier and J.P. McManus, who own 28.9 percent.

Magnier and McManus previously showed interest in boosting their stakes and Australian publishing magnate Rupert Murdoch also made a run at buying the team. The ire of fans and other United shareholders helped hold them back. "We sent Murdoch packing and gave Magnier and McManus a bloody nose," Jules Spencer, chairman of the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association, told British journalists. "If Glazer wants a fight, we will give him one."

Under UK market rules, if Glazer raises his stake above 29.9 percent, he must make a full offer to buy out all shareholders.

How Glazer would pay for the buy-out, along with other "conditions" of his bid, is a mystery.

One London paper said Glazer may opt for securitization deals, effectively mortgaging against future season-ticket sales and revenue streams.

Some observers have wondered if Glazer would trim his real estate portfolio to raise money for a Man United bid. But Glazer showed no signs of that last year, earmarking $500-million to buy small community shopping centers across the country.

As became clear during Glazer's pursuit of the Dodgers last year, the only way Glazer could get money out of his Bucs' ownership would be through selling the team. National Football League rules prohibit owners from using their team as loan collateral to purchase another professional squad.

British soccer fans fear the more likely scenario is that Glazer would borrow heavily to fund a takeover and then raise prices.

The most recent Forbes magazine ranking of the 400 richest Americans placed Glazer at 278 with a net worth of about $1-billion.

Shares of United rose more than 5 percent Monday to 271 pence on the London Stock Exchange. That values the club at about 700-million pounds, roughly $1.3-billion.

Information from Times wires and files was used in this report. Jeff Harrington can be reached at harrington@sptimes.com or 813 226-3407.

WHAT TEAMS ARE WORTH

A sampling of the value of some well-known professional teams:

Manchester United Soccer $1.3-billion

Washington Redskins NFL $1.104-billion

Dallas Cowboys NFL $923-million

Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFL $779-million

New York Yankees MLB $832-million

Boston Red Sox MLB $533-million

Tampa Bay Devil Rays MLB $152-million

Los Angeles Lakers NBA $447-million

New York Knicks NBA $401-million

MANCHESTER UNITED

HOME: Manchester, England

STADIUM: Old Trafford; 67,500 seating capacity

LEAGUE: English Premier League

MARKET CAPITALIZATION: $1.3-billion

NICKNAME: Red Devils

FAN SUPPORT: World's biggest soccer club; home games sell out

MOST FAMOUS PLAYERS: George Best, 1963-74, striker; David Beckham, 1993-2003, midfielder; Wayne Rooney, already a star forward at 19.

LEARN MORE: www.manutd.com

[Last modified October 5, 2004, 00:08:10]

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