Monday, May 16, 2005

Murdoch & Glazer

I'm trying to understand Malcolm Glazer's logic in buying Manchester United. I'm going to assume it has nothing to do with him being a big fan.

Reading this article on Glazer's potential bid for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2003, the writer notes that Glazer "made his fortune buying financially handicapped companies and selling them for profit". Well, United is not financially handicapped – at least not as far as I know.

At the time, the NFL wasn't too happy about Glazer's possible purchase of the Dodgers. The NFL has rules against owning teams in "competing" sports.

Then there's this from 2003 on the Dodger sale:
In a pretty wide-ranging interview with Sports Business Journal last week [Sep '03], [NFL] commissioner Paul Tagliabue acknowledged he hasn't heard much lately about the sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers to Tampa Bay Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer and his family. And this might be a reason why: Unless somebody slaps a pair of defibrillator paddles on the deal, and resuscitates the thing, it's dying. Owners from both entities, but especially those in the NFL, have some pretty strong issues with the whole concept. His NFL peers simply don't believe Glazer has the financial wherewithal to purchase the Dodgers without using some of the Bucs money, or using the NFL franchise as collateral, and Malcolm would have a lot of 'splaining to do before he would get their approval. As the great philosopher Yogi Berra once noted, "It ain't over 'til it's over." In baseball terms, though, Glazer looks to be in the ninth inning, shy a couple runs, and down to his last strike.
So, if he couldn't afford the $400m price tag for the Dodgers in '03, what's changed to allow him to afford Manchester United and its (approx.) $1.5bn price tag?

Is it possible that Glazer is buying Manchester United partially with someone else's money? And, could that someone else be Rupert Murdoch?

Murdoch still owns 10% of the club from his failed bid in 1999. I haven't seen anything about him selling his shares to Glazer.

In today's NY Times Geoffrey Wheatcroft notes the global appeal of Manchester United, particularly in Asia. "The club has one fanzine that sells 35,000 copies a month in Thailand; games from Old Trafford are watched live in China by more people than inhabit the British Isles".

If I were Rupert Murdoch and in charge of the STAR TV satellite systems across Asia, I'd be pretty keen on acquiring Manchester United. In 1999 Murdoch was stopped from doing just that by the British government. Could he have found a partner in Glazer? Someone willing to be the front man for Murdoch's buyout?

When Glazer tried to buy the Dodgers in 2003, they were owned by Murdoch's Fox Sports. So, there's a little history there already. Of course, Glazer would also have had some input into the NFL's t.v. rights negotiations with Fox and the other US networks. There has to be some logic to this deal and I can't see it from Glazer's perspective, but from Murdoch's view this would be a great deal.