THE Glazers have been so successful in finding sponsors for almost every Manchester United activity that the only real surprise is they failed to line up a sponsor when they finally announced David Moyes had been sacked.
The joke may not amuse Moyes but a glance at United’s website illustrates just how ruthlessly the Americans have made money from, or as they put it “monetise”, almost everything connected with the club.
Under Man United Finance are listed 14 partners offering “products and services for United supporters”, ranging from insurance to credit cards. And to cater to what the club claims are 659m global fans there is a world map numbering the partners from Mexico to Australia.
So extensive has been this commercialisation that two years ago not only did the club have a groundbreaking deal with DHL to sponsor the training kit, it also acquired an official noodles partner for Asia, Oceania and the Middle East called Mamee.
United, unlike all their rivals, make more from commercial activities than from television or match revenues.
Last season £152.5m — or 42% — of United’s total income of £363m was from commercial partners, more than 10 times the sum in 2005, when the Glazers bought the club.
As the former Everton chief executive Keith Wyness says: “The Glazers have sweated the assets of Manchester United like no other owner in English football has ever done.”
They needed to, of course. Their takeover burdened the club with debt of nearly £600m and yearly interest of almost £50m. Since then the debt has nearly halved to £357m and the annual interest bill is less than £20m.
But for the Glazers these financial figures matter less than their ability to show that they can export skills honed in running an American sporting franchise, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, to Britain.
This was important because while the US may be the home of capitalism, the NFL operates a sort of sporting
The NFL clubs see themselves as part of a chain where every link has equal rights: marketing is done centrally, much of the income is distributed equally and with no promotion or relegation the bottom club have the pick of the best college players for the next season.
As Majid Ishaq, of Rothschilds, who advised the Glazers on the takeover, says: “If you say to the Americans, ‘You can come over to England and you can sell Manchester United or Liverpool shirts in London or sponsorship in the Far East’ they love it.
“They say, ‘My goodness. I can make money out of this because if I can do it in the very regulated US market, now I have the rest of the world to sell to’.”
Ishaq acknowledges that these American owners do not often bring money — the Glazers certainly did not — but they do bring “sporting business acumen”. And it is that ability that has led the Glazers to transform how Manchester United are run, imposing a sharp division between football and the business of making money from football.
The starting point was to make sure that they developed a great bond with Sir Alex Ferguson. To the dismay of the many anti-Glazer fans at Old Trafford, Ferguson, who had never got on with the previous chairman, Martin Edwards, took to the Glazers instantly and, in turn, the Glazers let the manager reign at United’s Carrington training ground.
But they moved the commercial side of the football club from Old Trafford to London, with the commercial strings being pulled increasingly by Ed Woodward, an accountant.
The choice of Woodward as executive vice-chairman was significant. He had worked for JPMorgan, who advised the Glazers on the takeover.
The Americans were surrounding themselves with Englishmen who had been by their side during a takeover that was bitterly resented by many fans.
Two years ago the Glazers decided to float the club. The logical place would have been to return to the London Stock Exchange, where United had been listed for nearly two decades.
But the Glazers wanted to have their cake and eat it: float and still retain control. In New York they could have 10 votes for every one of their shares while public investors got one. New York also allowed the Glazers to have a board of family members and friends such as Robert Leitao of Rothschild, a crucial player in the takeover.
But even as the Glazers were striking financial gold they were aware that it was built upon success. Under Ferguson’s management that success had been crucial to securing the world-record shirt sponsorship deal with General Motors (Chevrolet), worth a staggering $559m over seven years.
The General Motors sponsorship starts next season and Moyes’ failure to qualify the team for the Champions League cast a long shadow over that deal and others Woodward is still negotiating.
As Barry Hearn, the Leyton Orient chairman, says: “Big corporations are very much based around perception and if the market doesn’t have the confidence in the management, the easiest way in the short term is to get rid of the manager.
“It shows that you are taking a positive attitude to the problem.
“That’s OK papering over the cracks. And if indeed this is just a blip, then United don’t have a problem. If, however, they don’t deliver next season then you begin to erode your brand value and the perception of success that exists in the City.
“If confidence disappears from the financial market it could bring a whole range of problems for United.”
For all the changes that the Glazers have made and the commercial success they have achieved, that is the fear haunting them. Get the Moyes succession wrong and United could be in freefall.
• Mihir Bose is the author of Manchester DisUnited: Trouble and Takeover at the World’s Richest Football Club