Manchester United takeover: The billionaires on alert as Glazers expected to sell

Glazers_OutGetty

Sir Jim Ratcliffe has pushed himself to the front of the queue in the battle to buy Manchester United, with some of the world’s richest people alerted to the possibility of taking over at Old Trafford. There is growing confidence the Glazer family are finally ready to sell control of the club in the face of mounting pressure from fans.

Ratcliffe - as confirmed by GOAL - wants to take full ownership by staging a buy-out of United’s hated US owners. And he has been quick to make it clear he is in position to complete what would be the biggest ever purchase of a sports team in the face of fierce competition.

  • The most expensive sports team ever

    Industry insiders estimate the Glazers could command as much as £6bn by selling up - dwarfing the £4.25bn Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital paid for Chelsea in May.

    That figure included a £1.75bn obligation to invest in the club, including a rebuild of Stamford Bridge.

    Roman Abramovich also wrote off £1.5bn in loans.

    Initial expectations were that Chelsea would be sold for considerably less - as low as £2bn - but such was the competition from investors around the world that the price ultimately rocketed.

  • Avram and Joel Glazer Manchester UnitedGetty Images

    Bidding war

    The Glazers expect even greater interest in United, who are arguably the biggest football club in the world, playing in the most lucrative league.

    US investors, in particular, are drawn to the broadcast revenues generated by the Premier League - and believe those rights can be further exploited.

    United’s match day revenue generated by around 75,000 fans packing into Old Trafford is also a huge draw.

  • But there's a catch...

    But a price of around £6bn is likely to be a flat fee, with the current debts of £591.5million belonging to the club, not the Glazers.

    In addition, the much-needed modernisation of Old Trafford could cost several hundreds of millions of pounds.

    It is understood potential buyers have been put off by the level of debt in the past - and it remains to be seen how much of an impact that would have on the Glazers’ ability to maximise the sale price.

  • Ratcliffe is serious

    Due to the requirement to issue regular financial updates to the New York Stock Exchange, United are obliged to be one of the most transparent clubs in the world - meaning potential buyers will already have a strong overview of their finances.

    Ratcliffe will go into any bid with his eyes open - even before being granted more detailed access to accounts.

    It is notable that his late move for Chelsea earlier this year came despite not being involved in the bidding process, in which buyers were allowed full view of the ‘data room’ to get a clear picture of the Stamford Bridge club’s finances.

    That bid - being placed after the final deadline had passed - bemused the fellow contenders. But it was widely seen by insiders as a notice of intent to United of Ratcliffe’s ability to buy-out the Glazers and his interest in owning a Premier League club.

  • Ratcliffe Glazers protestGetty / GOAL

    Buying United for the right reasons

    Notably he said at the time of his bid that he was not interested in making money out of Chelsea, rather running a successful football club.

    Asked why he wanted to buy Chelsea and not United, he told the BBC: “Manchester United is not for sale.”

    Asked if he would support United or Chelsea if he took control at Stamford Bridge, Ratcliffe responded: “That’s a difficult question. I think if I owned Chelsea I would have to support Chelsea. But it is in your DNA - your original club is quite deep-rooted. It would be a tough one.”

    That comment was seen as particularly curious at a time when the businessman was trying to convince Chelsea to accept his out-of-time bid.

  • Tom Ricketts Chicago CubsGetty Images

    The rivals

    While Ratcliffe, originally from Failsworth near Manchester, would be the dream choice for United fans, he will face intense competition from other billionaires and consortiums to buy-out the Glazers.

    The Ricketts family, who own the Chicago Cubs baseball team, were one of the leading contenders to Chelsea - and serious as the most serious rival to Boehly’s consortium until dropping out late on.

    They had backing from US hedge fund manager, Ken Griffin, who is worth around £22bn.

    The Ricketts have already been linked with bid for United.

    Steve Pagliuca, owner of the Boston Celtics basketball team and Serie A’s Atalanta, was another strong contender for Chelsea.

    The private investor was among the most secretive of the bidders trying to buy-out Abramovic, but emerged as a serious rival to Boehly.

  • Who else?

    Woody Johnson, who owns NFL team, the New York Jets, was another American with his eyes on investing in the Premier League - but ultimately failed to make the shortlist drawn up by the merchant bank, Raine, who managed the sale on behalf of Chelsea.

    The billionaire duo of Josh Harris and David Blitzer could also look to get involved in a bidding war.

    Wider interest in Chelsea came from the Saudi Media Group and mooted moves for United from that part of the world has long-been discussed.

    US private equity firm, Apollo, are already said to be in talks to buy a minority stake - but the growing anticipation is that the Glazers will sell complete control.

  • A bargain?

    Even at a cost of £6bn, experts believe there is considerable growth potential in English top flight clubs.

    Joe Ravitch, co-founder of Raine, told the Financial Times this year: “My guess is that Chelsea and all of the top Premier League clubs will probably be worth in excess of $10bn in five years.”

    Interest in Chelsea was so high because it was seen as a rarity that one of England’s biggest teams would become available. That is what prompted the scramble, with the chance to buy them considered a once in a lifetime opportunity.

    Now the biggest of them all is expected to hit the market.

    Ratcliffe may be the first to publicly declare his interest - but he won’t be the last.