The proposal from the Glazer family is to sell off a minority stake of between 25 - 30%, and a listing application has apparently been lodged with the Singapore Stock Exchange to this effect.
It’s estimated that such a sale could raise between £400m - £600m for the club. That would be a useful sum for United, whose continued on-pitch success (Alex Ferguson’s indomitable boys won the Premiership again last year, for the 12th time) has not been matched by its financial results of late: parent company Red Ventures made a loss of £109m in 2009/2010.
Analysts have been quick to suggest that this could mark the beginning of a gradual exit for the Glazers: although they will retain the majority holding a listing would give then them the option to sell that off steadily over a few months or years. It’s rumoured that a recent attempt to sell to a private buyer foundered on the price.
Of course United was a listed company when US baseball tycoon, Malcolm Glazer and his son, Joel, controversially acquired it for £800m back in 2005, but in those days it was listed on the London Stock Exchange. It was also highly profitable, making £58.3m on a £171m turnover. The move to list in Singapore this time around suggests that both that the Glazers wish to further boost the clubs already sky-high profile in Asia (where the club has an estimated 190m fans) and also that they think they will get a better price there than in Europe. On that score they are probably correct.
If this is a sign that the Glazers are looking to cash out, then many fans will not be too upset. The pair have never been exactly popular with the crowds at Old Trafford or beyond, although in fairness it’s hard to argue that the club hasn’t taken its fair share of silverware since they assumed control.
The main reason for their unpopularity is anger at the £500m debt which they loaded the club up with in order to finance the deal in the first place. It was a classic leveraged buy out - remember those? United isn’t the only business to have fallen fowl of the rising cost of servicing its debt in recent years, and the cash raised by a float would go a long way towards easing the current interest burden - estimated at £45m a year. Doubtless Fergie would love to get his hands on some of that dosh to spend on the pitch.
But if you’re a United fan and you fancy buying a few shares, you might have a bit of wait on your hands. The club is apparently keen to complete the listing process by the end of this year, but according to the blurb on the Singapore Stock Exchange website it can take up to two years, depending on complexity of the deal. Plenty of time to bag a couple more trophies then…
- For more background on this story, see our 2005 interview with Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill
- Image credit: Flickr/Paolo Camera