Malcolm Glazer, Manchester United, Buccaneers Owner, Dies at 85

Malcolm Glazer, the billionaire sports team owner who brought a Super Bowl title to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and was disdained by fans of the U.K.’S Manchester United soccer club when he bought the team in 2005, has died. He was 85.

He died yesterday, according to a statement on the Buccaneers website. No other details were provided. He resided in Palm Beach, Florida.

Successful at making money in a range of businesses, from repairing watches to owning television stations, Glazer spent $192 million in 1995 for the National Football League’s Buccaneers. The Tampa, Florida-based team, a perpetual loser since its first season in 1976, went 66-46 during Glazer’s first eight seasons in charge, culminating with a victory in Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003.

“They are the perfect owners,” Rich McKay, the team’s general manager during its Super Bowl run, told USA Today in 2003, referring to Glazer and his sons. “They never dabble in personnel except when a budget decision of some kind is involved.”

Forbes magazine’s most-recent estimate of the franchise’s value is $1.07 billion, 17th among the NFL’s 32 teams. The concessions Glazer extracted to keep the team in Tampa Bay -- a new stadium paid for by taxpayers, with most revenue going to the team -- lifted his personal wealth as well. He broke onto Forbes’s list of richest Americans in 2000, with a net worth of $725 million. Forbes currently estimates Glazer’s wealth, shared with his six children, at $4 billion.

Unhappy Fans

Glazer began buying stakes in Manchester United, which Forbes magazine ranks as the most valuable sports franchise in the world, in 2003. When he began takeover negotiations in 2004, United fans hung him in effigy outside Old Trafford stadium in Manchester. British newspapers called him an “American predator.”

He took control of the team in May 2005, spending 790.3 million pounds ($1.3 billion) through his family holding company, Red Football Ltd., to buy out the club’s two biggest shareholders, John Magnier and J.P. McManus. When he reached 75 percent ownership he took the club private. Forbes estimated that its value had grown to $1.86 billion in 2011.

Fan Concerns

To carry out the deal, Glazer borrowed 265 million pounds from banks and sold 275 million pounds of preferred shares to unidentified investors. Beyond whatever chagrin they felt about an American buyer, Manchester fans said they worried the leveraged buyout would leave the team, which had been free of debt, hamstrung financially, unable to compete with the likes of Chelsea, which had been bought by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich in 2003.

United won the English Premiership soccer championship four times in Glazer’s first six seasons in charge and increased revenue from several sources, including sponsorship and partnership deals. In 2010, the Glazer family paid off 220 million pounds of high-cost loans; according to Forbes, that still left it with a debt-to-value ratio of 41 percent, compared with an average of 26 percent among the top 50 sports franchises in the world.

Glazer made his sporting endeavors a family affair. Four of his sons -- Avram, Bryan, Edward and Joel -- are involved in running United, while Bryan, Edward and Joel run the Buccaneers. Glazer and his wife, Linda, also had a fifth son, Kevin, and a daughter, Darcie, who, with Edward, leads the family’s charitable foundation.

Immigrants’ Son

Malcolm Irving Glazer was born on Aug. 15, 1928, in Rochester, New York, according to Nelson Luis, a Buccaneers spokesman. He was the fifth child of seven born to Lithuanian Jewish immigrants Abraham and Hannah Glazer, according to a profile in 1995 in the St. Petersburg Times in St. Petersburg, Florida, for which Glazer gave a rare interview.

At 8, Glazer went to work for his father’s watch-repair and watch-parts business in Utica, New York. In 1943, when Glazer was 15, his father died, leaving the family -- in Glazer’s recollection -- just $300 in a cigar box. (One of Glazer’s sisters, Jeanette Goldstein, challenged her brother’s rags-to-riches story: “He did not come from nothing,” she told the St. Petersburg newspaper in 1995. She was one of four sisters who battled Glazer for years over their mother’s estate following her death in 1980.)

Watch Repair

After a brief try at Sampson College in Rochester, Glazer devoted himself full-time to fixing jewelry and watches. From 1951 to 1956, he plied his craft at Sampson Air Force Base near Rochester under negotiated concessions.

“Everything I made” -- he estimated that was $50,000 a year -- “I gave to my mother, Hannah,” Glazer told the St. Petersburg newspaper. “I fantasized that I was providing for my mother like her husband, actually. She always said to me, ‘You’re my son, you’re my husband, you’re my father.’”

The base closed in 1956, and Glazer set his sights on real estate. After buying duplexes, single-family homes and commercial buildings in Rochester, he began specializing in owning and managing mobile-home parks. With regard to persistent complaints from his tenants about improper fees and poor service, Glazer said in 1995, “When you own property, it goes with the territory.”

Broadcast Investments

In 1963, he bought the National Bank of Savannah in upstate New York. In 1973 he bought West Hill Convalescent Center in Hartford, Connecticut, the first of five nursing homes he would own. In 1976 he spent $20 million for three television stations, including WRBL in Columbus, Georgia, that he sold in 1990 for $66 million, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

In 1984 Glazer formed First Allied Corp. as holding company for his various interests. It became known mostly for attempting to acquire Consolidated Rail Corp., also known as Conrail, from the U.S. government and for attempted hostile takeovers of Formica Corp. in 1988 and Harley-Davidson Inc. in 1989. Though both takeover bids failed, Glazer came away with profits when he sold his shares.

Glazer accumulated a controlling stake in Zapata Corp., the oil-and-gas company started in the 1950s by George H.W. Bush, the future U.S. president. With son Avram, Glazer took Zapata out of the energy field and into a range of businesses including a company that made sausage casings.

In 1993, Glazer led an ownership group that tried to land an NFL expansion franchise for Baltimore. That bid failed -- the league awarded teams to Jacksonville, Florida, and Charlotte, North Carolina -- but left Glazer well-positioned to make a play for the Buccaneers when they became available.

Record Price

The $192 million he spent for the Buccaneers in 1995 was the highest price paid until then for an NFL team. Glazer quickly went to work demanding a new stadium, and in 1996, voters approved a half-percentage point sales-tax increase to pay for it and for improved schools, police and fire services and public works. The new stadium, its naming rights bought by St. Petersburg-based Raymond James Financial Inc., opened in 1998.

Glazer was a largely hands-off owner whose biggest moment in the spotlight came after the 2001 season, when he fired Tony Dungy as head coach. After a messy public search, he sent draft picks and $8 million to the Oakland Raiders for the right to hire their coach, Jon Gruden.

Gruden led the Buccaneers to a 12-4 regular-season record in 2002 and, to date, the franchise’s only Super Bowl title.

Glazer’s survivors include his wife, six children and 14 grandchildren.