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Glazers eye Hong Kong listing for Manchester United

Float would value club at about £1.7bn and provide profitable exit for American family The American Glazer family, which owns Manchester United, could list the company on the Hong Kong stock exchange in a move that would value the club at around £1.7bn.

A float would provide a profitable exit for the Glazers, which bought the club in a highly leveraged £790m deal in 2005, although the family may retain a stake and use the proceeds from a share offering to reduce debt of £490m.

A number of successful floats in Hong Kong of upmarket western brands, such as luggage firm Samsonite, has sparked interest from the Glazers, who own the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the US. The family will be closely watching the upcoming Hong Kong float of luxury fashion house Prada, and their plans could be accelerated if it proves successful. The Italian company’s advisers say the offer is five times oversubscribed, so the omens look encouraging.

Last year United chalked up losses of nearly £80m after interest payments, reigniting anger from supporters who claim United’s indebtedness has pushed up ticket prices and constrained the ability of the club to buy top-notch players.

In 2010, a list of the 10 most valuable sports brands compiled by Forbes magazine ranked United second only to the New York Yankees, and Wall Street bankers have been pushing the float idea to the Glazers in recent weeks.

United has a huge following in Asia and analysts say there would an enormous appetite for the shares in the event of an initial public offering (IPO).

The UK-based Manchester United Supporters Trust (Must) gave the idea a cautious welcome, saying there should also be a public listing in London to enable all fans to buy the shares. Must said: “A full IPO would provide an opportunity for supporters to once again share in the ownership of their club.”

But it added that an IPO would have to signal a clean exit for the Glazers. “Fans would hate to see the Glazers walk away with a huge profit, but the issue is about what is best for Manchester United. Until the Glazers’ drain on our finances is removed, we will never be able to compete on a level playing field with the best in the world.”

A club spokesman refused to comment.

Over the last 18 months there have been moves to buy out the Glazers by a group of wealthy supporters – dubbed the Red Knights – led by Jim O’Neill, chairman of Goldman Sachs asset management. But their £1bn offer was rejected by the Glazers, as was a £1.5bn approach from the Qatar royal family.

Last November, the Glazers paid down £220m of high-interest paying loans from funds held in a vehicle outside the club. Earlier this year, the family transferred the parent company shareholding to a new company registered in Delaware, which requires disclosure of only the bare minimum of corporate information.

Filed in: Sports

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