Manchester United: England's "Biggest" Club Looking to Cash in with Shareholders

Dan PattersonContributor IOctober 6, 2011

The Steve Jobs of the footballing world?
The Steve Jobs of the footballing world?Clive Mason/Getty Images

The summer of 2011 was an occasion where the Premier League's biggest clubs thumbed their noses at the economic downturn and spent £485 million on transfer fees, including the £484,999,999.99 that Kenny Dalglish paid Sunderland for Jordan Henderson.

Transfer deadline day was busier than ever, and Tony Pulis pulled his best Steve Bruce impression (with Spurs instead of Manchester United) by attempting to sign Tottenham's entire first team.

Everyone reinforced, but it seemed that Sir Alex Ferguson didn't splash the cash everyone expected him to on a new striker or a Wesley Sneijder-shaped replacement for Paul "Still Can't Tackle" Scholes. This was supposed to be the season that Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool made up ground on Fergie.

Seven games into the season, United have taken near maximum points and top the table with a goal difference of 19. Wait, what was that about a team in transition?

Yet again everyone is made to look like an idiot as Tom Cleverly, Anderson and Franz Becken—oh, I mean Phil Jones—have gotten the Red Devils off to a rip-roaring start. Not to mention Wayne Rooney's inability to miss the net.

But things are getting much more interesting on the ownership side, as it has emerged that Malcolm Glazer is intending to take the club public in an IPO on the Singapore stock exchange. A recent Forbes evaluation estimates the club's value to be around the £1.1 billion, which to put it in business context comes out to roughly 0.002% of Apple Inc.

Now this isn't a case of the Glazers giving up and opening the door for everyone and their dog to buy shares of the club and be involved in high-level decision making. The Manchester United Supporter's Trust (MUST) which operates as the Glazer family's ownership vehicle would retain over 70 percent stake in the company, leaving new investment to hold roughly 20-30 percent.

These investors would be purchasing non-voting shares, and there certainly aren't any plans in place for dividends in the near future.

The ownership structure of soccer clubs has evolved remarkably over the past 10 years, with the traditional cluster of majority stakeholders sharing a boardroom being replaced by a single ownership voice.

On the extreme opposite end of this spectrum is Ebbsfleet United, currently plying their trade in the Conference National division. In 2008, it was purchased by MyFootballClub, a group of 50,000 football enthusiasts from around the world that pay a membership fee online and have the ability to vote on major decisions from team selection to transfer business.

Unfortunately in the cold light of 2011, fewer than 3000 paying members remain, a bitter blow to any aspirations this project had on affecting the game as a whole.

So why exactly would United attempt to pull off something like this? The primary concern for any recently christened owner of a Premier League club (except for Roman Abramovich or Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan) is paying off the debt taken out to acquire said club.

United's debt stands at around £300 million, most of this existing because of loans the Glazers took out in order to muster up the cash to purchase United in the first place.

This is slowly being shaved down, with £110 million in branding rights being secured for this year alone (partnerships with Aon, DHL, etc) as well as the proceeds from shipping out Cristiano Ronaldo to the Bernabeu.

Future United and England captain?
Future United and England captain?Michael Regan/Getty Images

Red Devils fans whp complain money being used to pay off debts should be re-invested in the squad have been placated with the arrivals of Ashley Young, Phil Jones and David de Gea, who have had no issues slotting immediately into the team's starting XI.

Even with the world economy seemingly teetering on the brink of apocalypse, ask anyone if they'd like the idea of owning a share in their supported club and you'd likely receive a resounding yes.

Most big clubs have international supporter membership programs, but actually owning a little piece of say, Liverpool FC, would appeal greatly to me, even if $100 only gets me 0.0000000001% stake with no voting rights or dividend.

Emotions and investing are two creatures that are best kept on opposite ends of the room, but when it comes to soccer, there's really no reason for owners not to consider this avenue.

Tying ownership stake into merchandise discounts, access to official club communication or else the chance for one lucky fan to have a night on the town with Andy Carroll are just a few possibilities that could emerge.