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Man Utd IPO - soccer stars or media moguls?

posted 20 Jul 2012, 08:29 by Mpelembe Admin   [ updated 20 Jul 2012, 08:30 ]

It may be the world's most valuable sports team but Manchester United is taking a different tack in its attempt to lure reluctant investors, ahead of a New York IPO.

LONDON, ENGLAND, UK - It flirted with Hong Kong.

Was briefly seduced by Singapore.

But in the end it was New York that won the heart of Manchester United.

The world's most valuable sports team has decided to float on the New York Stock Exchange.

But is it actually a sports business?

The SEC filing describes an "advertising-dependent content producer that enjoys strong brand visibility and loyalty." In other words, a media company.

Sports companies aren't particularly attractive to U.S. investors. Remember the great Cleveland Indians and Orlando Predators IPOs of the 1990s? Exactly.

The owners are American though.

The Glazer family of Tampa Bay Buccaneers and shopping mall fame.

They bought the club in 2005 for about $1.3 billion.

Another case of rich foreign owners boosting the coffers of an English football team then?

Not exactly. This was a leveraged buyout, loading a once debt-free club with huge amounts of borrowings. Seven years on, it still has a debt pile of 423 million pounds.

Still, we're talking a massively successful team here. Manager Alex Ferguson is the most decorated in British football history.

Trouble is, Sir Alex is no 70 and will be an almost impossible act to follow. On top of that, United's financial position has seen it lose out on marquee player signings in the past few years.

And last season it lost the league title to fierce rivals Manchester City and was knocked out of the Champions League at an early stage.

Perhaps then a chance for fans to have any say in the running of their club? Except the proposed dual-shape structure, which means the family's 'B' shares will carry 10 times the voting rights of the 'A' shares being made available.

And the company has been registered in the Cayman Islands - a long way for the average fan to travel to the AGM.

So, unless you are a Glazer, shareholders will have almost no influence over the club.

On top of that, the prospectus makes it clear that they have no intention of paying dividends.

So is there any upside?

Well, the Glazer's say they'll use the proceeds to cut debts, potentially freeing up cash to attract top players.

And with half a billion fans around the world, the club has been able to strike commercial deals in 72 countries, including a major shirt deal with Nike. It will also take a large slice of the Premier League's new £3 billion Premier TV deal.

In the end though, investing in sports teams is really just for die-hard fans and romantics.

Perhaps pretending to be a media company will convince more rational investors.

And then again, perhaps not.

Nigel Hilditch, Reuters