Manchester United refuses to hold talks with supporter groups that want to oust its U.S. owners, the Premier League club’s Chief Executive Officer David Gill said today.
The Glazers have faced a backlash from some of the soccer team’s fans for raising debt against United to pay for their 790 million-pound ($1.3 billion) takeover in 2005. United, an 18-time English champion that was debt-free before the buyout, pays about 45 million pounds in interest to service a 500 million-pound bond that replaced a bank loan last year.
Anti-Glazer groups, ignored by United, have contacted the Premier League in an effort to get the team to communicate with independent fan organizations. Still, United is maintaining its stance.
“We don’t communicate with some fan groups but they have an avowed intention to change the ownership, so it would be slightly strange to enter dialogue with those groups that have those intentions,” Gill said at a London meeting with U.K. lawmakers looking into soccer governance.
Thousands of supporters wearing green and gold protest colors formed the backdrop to many United games last season when details of the club’s financing were published in a prospectus for the bond. The colors are those of Newton Heath, the team’s original incarnation.
Fans have also complained about rising ticket prices and the lack of big-name player acquisitions.
Even so, United has won seven major trophies under the Glazers, including three straight English championships between 2007 and 2009 and the 2008 Champions League. The team is three points clear at the top of the Premier League, has reached the Champions League round-of-16, and seen a decline in fan protests. That hasn’t convinced dissident supporters.
“I think its ridiculous they don’t talk to groups like ours,” Duncan Drasdo, CEO of the Manchester United Supporters Trust, a movement that opposes the Glazers, said in an interview. MUST has 67,000 members, of whom 15,000 hold season tickets, Drasdo added.
In response to a question, Gill said United wasn’t an embarrassment to the U.K. because of its finances. Instead, he said the American owners had helped to propel the club forward by increasing revenue.
The debt “doesn’t impact what we do,” said Gill. “There has been no impact in terms of our transfers.”
Sales have more than doubled under the Glazers, growing by 7.1 percent to 93.2 million pounds in the three months ended Dec. 31, compared with the year-earlier period.
Annual commercial sales have increased to 100 million pounds from 40 million pounds since the Americans bought the team. United has a similar amount of cash on the balance sheet, much of it stemming from the world-record 80 million-pound sale of forward Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid in 2009.
Last month the club tried to end speculation about a possible sale to the Qatari royal family. In a statement, United’s board said there had been no talks and the owners didn’t want to sell the business. Forbes Magazine estimated its market value at $1.8 billion.
Niall Quinn, chairman of Sunderland, another Premier League team, said part of the fans’ distrust of the Glazers may be caused by their reluctance to speak publicly about owning the team. The family doesn’t do media interviews about the club.
“People don’t really know what the Glazers think deep down in their hearts,” said Quinn, addressing the same parliamentary committee. Fans didn’t know if the owners cared about bad calls from a referee, watched matches or “are they just taking a call on the golf course?”