It was a relationship that was always destined to reach breaking point.
Unpopular from the start owing to the manner of their leveraged purchase of Manchester United, the Glazer family have done little over time to ever try and heal those divisions that exist.
A breakaway football club and protests over their perceived use of the club as nothing more than a cash machine have done little to throw the Glazers off course, instead the family has been able to use Ed Woodward as a lightning rod for the animosity towards them while they were able to remain in the US and bask in the glory of their beloved Tampa Bay Buccaneers winning the Super Bowl.
The backlash at their involvement in the Super League fiasco would have done little to change their tune – after all, when you are already a figure of intense dislike then what else is there to lose?
But Sunday’s protests, where fans managed to get on to the Old Trafford pitch and force the postponement of their clash with Liverpool, would have sent a message loud and clear.
United were already a publicly listed company when Malcolm Glazer took a stake in them in 2003 before pressing ahead with a leveraged buyout two years later. It was a buyout of the club where the Glazer family didn’t have to dig into their own pockets, instead taking out loans secured against the club’ assets to the tune of £525m, with the repayments – at huge interest rates – coming from the club itself and, of course, the paying fans.
That £525m in debt financing has turned into £1.1bn, with £704m paid in interest, £244m coming through debt repayments and £125m returning to the pockets of the Glazers, the majority shareholders at United, through dividends.
The anger towards them is very real, but would they sell up and, if they did decide they wanted to do so, who would be at the table to take on board a club valued at over £3bn and laden with £455m of debt?
While the value of United may be around £3bn the expectation would be that the Glazers, if they were interested in selling, would want a much higher return that that, closer to the £4bn mark.
That figure when put into a football context seems huge, but when that is compared to other businesses then acquisitions well in excess of that value are commonplace.
But for many investors, while we may see football as a growth business as it sees greater yields year after year through broadcasting, the reality is that for many it simply doesn’t make enough money to justify the outlay.
Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the owner of INEOS and French side Nice, has a personal wealth of £16.5bn – more than the likes of Roman Abramovich, is a lifelong United fan and grew up in Oldham. But with his business head on even he baulked at the valuations of Premier League clubs when scouring the market before taking over at Nice. The returns just aren’t there in relation to the valuations, certainly not at the levels that owners would want to see for that price.
The Middle East provides opportunities for new investment, as has been the case with Manchester City and their steps forward under Sheikh Mansour.
The status of owning a club such as Manchester United is huge, especially given that they remain, arguably, the biggest club in the world despite the comparative lack of success on the pitch in the last decade or so.
But even those opportunities aren’t bountiful, and if the idea behind the protests on Sunday was to remove the Glazers and ensure that there is a stronger case for fan representation at board level, would that ever really be viable with such a move?
One interesting idea that could be presented is not takeover by individual, but by organisation.
“It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that we could see a big firm try to take over, like a tech firm, to add the club to their portfolio,” explained football finance expert Kieran Maguire, a lecturer at the University of Liverpool and author of ‘The Price of Football’.
“Having Manchester United as part of your brand would offer plenty of benefits, and for tech firms like Google or Facebook why not? There are possibilities moving forward for the digitising of the brand, to create new experiences around football that would be of interest to firms like that, especially with a global fan base that United has.
“Someone like that, while the ownership would be aloof the chances are that they wouldn’t take from the business in the same manner that the Glazers have done for their own personal gain.”
The actions of Sunday saw a fairly modest drop in share price when markets opened on Monday on the New York Stock Exchange.
That would have been enough to suggest to the Glazers that they would be able to ride out this latest episode. But should the animosity continue and the Glazers continue on their path then they run the risk of the brand becoming toxic, and that is something that would likely affect share price.
“Manchester United has been the goose that lays the golden egg for the Glazer family,” said Maguire. “It seems that the Glazers are pretty defiant and they have no desire to sell a business that they take plenty out having put almost nothing into.”