Manchester City Chases Neighbor on Global Stage After Title Win

Manchester City Claims First League Title in 44 Years
Sergio Aguero of Manchester City scores his team's third and match-winning goal during the Barclays Premier League match against Queens Park Rangers. Photographer: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Manchester City squeezed by defending champion Manchester United to win the Premier League soccer title. The Blues still have a long way to go to match their neighbors’ financial success.

City defeated Queens Park Rangers 3-2 yesterday to clinch its first English league championship in 44 years. Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero’s stoppage-time goals gave City the title on goal difference ahead of United, which won 1-0 at Sunderland, after both teams finished the 38-game season with 89 points.

United, which has a record 19 English titles, last month topped Forbes magazine’s annual list for the eighth straight year with an estimated valuation of $2.24 billion. City was ranked 13th at $443 million even after owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan spent $1 billion on improving the team after taking over in 2008.

“United has the best business model,” Tom Cannon, a sports business professor at England’s University of Liverpool, said in a telephone interview. “They have the three big revenues streams: gate incomes, TV and commercial activities. No other English club comes close to that.”

A worldwide fan base of about 330 million helps make United the most valuable team in any professional sport, worth $385 million more than Major League Baseball’s New York Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys of the National Football League, Forbes said.

City’s title triumph, the club’s first since 1968, denied United what would have been a record-extending 20th English league championship and 13th since the Premier League’s inception in 1992.

Billionaire Buyer

The new champion’s fortunes turned when Sheikh Mansour, a billionaire member of the Abu Dhabi royal family, bought the club from former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The Blues won the F.A. Cup last season, their first trophy in 35 years, and also qualified for the Champions League for the first time, where they were eliminated in the group stage. City is the fifth team to win the 20-year-old Premier League after United, Blackburn Rovers, Arsenal and Chelsea.

“Hopefully this will be just the start of days like this,” City manager Roberto Mancini said yesterday. “We set out to make history and that is what we have done.”

City’s spending has attracted stars including Carlos Tevez, David Silva and Sergio Aguero. The Blues trail only Barcelona and Real Madrid among the world’s best-paid sports teams with an average of $7.4 million, according to Sporting Intelligence’s Global Sports Salaries Survey. That’s nearly $2 million more than No. 11 United.

Financial Power

“Nobody can match their financial power, no one,” United manager Alex Ferguson said of City ahead of his team’s May 6 match against Swansea. “You have to accept that, so we do it a different way.”

Although City can outspend United on players, it still trails in revenue, according to accountant Deloitte LLP, which ranked United third behind Real Madrid and Barcelona in its “Money League” report of the highest-earning soccer clubs. City was 12th with 169.6 million euros ($220 million) in revenue in 2010-11 compared with United’s 367 million euros.

“There’s a global brand that United possesses and City doesn’t,” Kieran Maguire, principal lecturer in accounting and finance at Manchester Metropolitan University, said in a telephone interview. “United is still the brand that people are seeking.”

United’s worldwide appeal has attracted major sponsors including AON Corp., DHL Worldwide Express and Nike Inc. The club also runs off-season tours to Asia and North America, where fans will pay to watch the team train or play exhibition games.

Asian Appeal

“Manchester United makes regular trips to Asia to show commitment to the fans and that makes a huge difference,” Marcus Luer, group chief executive officer of Total Sports Asia, a Kuala Lumpur-based sports marketing agency, said in an e-mail. “If a CEO goes to a game and sees a full stadium and fanatical fan support, it’s easy to see why he would want to be associated with the brand.”

United’s global growth has also been helped over the years by players such as David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo and George Best, known as much as celebrities as athletes.

“It’s not just about the club doing well, it’s about building the image up with individual players,” Cannon said. “City doesn’t have anyone you’d say is a glamorous player. In certain markets like Japan, you need that glamor.”

City’s major sponsor is Etihad Airways, Abu Dhabi’s national airline, which last year signed a 10-year deal worth about $482 million to have its name on the club’s stadium and shirt. Cannon said City can use its ties to the Middle East, though needs to look outside the Abu Dhabi border.

“There is a lot of money in the Middle East which isn’t dependent on the link to Abu Dhabi,” he said.

City must also learn how to win consistently, according to Luer and Cannon. The accumulation of titles and trophies leads to commercial success, so even when United misses out, it’s brand is unaffected.

“Manchester United’s brand value will not diminish,” Luer said. “It’s built on years of success and other elements and not one season.”

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