A lot has already been said about the Malcolm Glazer takeover of Manchester United. The American businessman has been dealt a massive amount of criticism from United fans unhappy with the way he’s gone about buying their club. It remains to be seen whether their fears were unfounded or not, but in the meantime it’s certainly a situation that other English clubs need to keep an eye on.
United fans (or at least the majority of them) seem to be using whatever tactics they can to draw attention to their dislike of the new regime, and are also trying to wake fans of other clubs up to the negative impact they feel this man could have on the game in this country.
When Chelsea were sold to Roman Abramovich the Stamford Bridge fans gave him a cautious welcome – and by now would hate to see him leave. United fans are probably not going to see Glazer selling players as and when he feels like it – he’ll only do that if he feels he can make a profit on them. He’ll want them to be successful – after all United fans proved earlier in the week they don’t intend to hang around watching a United team that doesn’t win things when they left the game before the "lap of honour" from their players against Chelsea. The biggest problem for United fans in the coming seasons could be how much they’ll have to pay to watch their team play.
This is one way that the Glazer deal could hit fans of other clubs. Not only would fans visiting Old Trafford’s away sections see their admission prices hiked to the maximum Glazer can get away with, but the home admission prices will rise too. This means other clubs will have a benchmark to price their own tickets against.
Liverpool are looking to build a new stadium as soon as the finance is in place. Currently prices for the Kop are lower than elsewhere in the ground which goes back to promises made to keep prices low when the stand was first made all seater. Would the new version of the Kop in the new stadium also see lower prices than other parts of the ground? Liverpool tend to sell out of tickets for the majority of their games – empty seats are usually seats that were sold as part of corporate deals and never taken up. Liverpool will be bound to review their pricing policy once the move has taken place – and will be looking to charge as high a price as they feel they can get away with. If Glazer increases Man United tickets as much as he’d like to, Liverpool will be able to go quite high and still say they are lower than their rivals.
Sponsorship deals look set to stay pretty much as they are now. Clubs are able to choose their own shirt sponsors, and other than adding short or back-of-shirt sponsors there isn’t much scope in that department. The top three clubs in this season’s Premiership have the most lucrative deals in England and that’s based on the success of a club, which leads to the exposure of the sponsors name. Liverpool are yet to announce their shirt sponsors for next season, but Carlsberg are reported to be ready to renew their deal again.
Liverpool are considering the option of naming their new stadium after a sponsor – in the same way that Arsenal intend to use the Emirates name in their new stadium’s identity, and in the same way that Bolton’s ground has always been known as the Reebok stadium. Glazer is set to upset United fans by renaming Old Trafford if reports are to be believed – adding the name of a sponsor. If he calls it the Vodaphone Bowl or the Nike Stadium he’s going to upset fans even more, who’d like to see the Old Trafford name included in the name of the ground if it is renamed. Liverpool fans would like their new ground to include Anfield in the name – but that would probably reduce the amount that would be bid by a sponsor to include their name. Again, what Glazer does will make Liverpool’s choices easier.
Another way that Glazer sees he can make money out of United is to rip up the existing television deals. Currently all Premiership clubs negotiate as one body for the TV deals. This means that clubs like United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea get pretty much the same amounts as the less fashionable clubs like Norwich, Southampton, Portsmouth and so on.
Peter Kenyon, nowadays employed by Chelsea, once tried to get other clubs to vote to opt out of the collective process at a Premiership meeting. He was out-voted 19-1. Certainly only a few clubs would benefit if clubs did decide to go it alone on negotiations. This means votes of 19-1 (or 18-2) look to remain the norm. So now the speculation is that Glazer will go to court to get his own way. And as many court cases cost so much to fight that they are settled out of court, he may just get his own way. This would probably mean Liverpool (and Arsenal and Chelsea) would get a greater share – but would not be so good for other clubs. Then again, the clubs outside of the Premier League weren’t happy when the top flight broke away from the rest in the 1990’s, and despite claims about how many clubs would go out of business, things are more stable now and it’s only occasional clubs that suffer.
On the issue of settling out of court, a litigation specialist from Shammah Nicholls Roger Rubin – was asked for his views. He said, "The unfortunate truth about our legal system is that is doesn’t matter whether you are right or wrong, if you want to force an issue with someone, you pick a fight and send it towards the courts. Over 98% of cases are settled out of court for one reason or another and Malcolm Glazer will be aware of that. If he took the legal route, the Premier League would then be faced with some huge problem. They would have to decide whether their regulations were so watertight they were willing to let them be tested them in court, or whether they were willing to operate without Manchester United, or whether to back down and let Glazer have what he wants."
Rubin continued: "There is also the factor of precedent being established, as occurred with the Bosman Ruling on transfers when it could have been avoided. It sounds like an unreasonable and inappropriate method of getting what you want but that is the commercial reality of the situation and from what I gather, Malcolm Glazer is quite litigious."
In 2002 the Italian top-flight was postponed for two weeks, because eight of the 18 Serie A clubs were unhappy with the way TV rights had been negotiated. They refused to play until the pot was agreed to be shared out more evenly.
If Glazer can get support from enough English clubs, he could push for the formation of a breakaway league – and with United and Liverpool part of the infamous G14 group of clubs that’s always a possibility.
Rubin thinks that Glazer needs to be very wary of how far he pushes the issues: "Ultimately, for any game of football you must have two teams. So while Glazer might be willing to push the Premier League for more than he is getting at the moment, if he goes too far, he risks alienating the clubs Manchester United are supposed to be playing."
So, unless Glazer surprises everyone by taking a back seat and leaving things pretty much as they are, it does look like his actions will impact other clubs. Just as Roman Abramovich impacted other clubs by giving Chelsea the money to tempt players away from their clubs, or to prevent other clubs from being able to afford players they’d have liked.
Football is changing, and Liverpool, like others, need to try and stay one step ahead.