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US investment firm builds up stake in Man United

- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 11, 2014

LONDON (AP) - U.S. investment firm Baron Capital has bought nearly a quarter of all publicly-traded shares in New York-listed English soccer club Manchester United PLC.

In 2012, the Glazer family sold 10 percent of its holding in Manchester United via a stock listing. A filing Monday on the Securities and Exchange Commission showed Baron Capital now owns around 24 percent of those shares, leaving it with an overall stake of about 2.5 percent.

Because the Glazers, who also own the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, control 90 percent of the shares and even more of the voting shares, Baron's move is not being viewed as a bid to secure a controlling interest in the club. Though Baron refused to comment, it says on its website that it "remains positive" on Manchester United's prospects.

In what is proving to be a volatile session, Manchester United shares were down 0.9 percent early Tuesday afternoon New York time at $15.71. The company has a market value of around $2.6 billion.

London-based financial analyst Andy Green, who writes a blog on football finance and advises the Manchester United Supporters' Trust, said Baron Capital's move appeared to be purely an investment strategy.

"This is absolutely not the start of any takeover," said Green. "You could buy all the shares available on the stock market and you would still only have 10 percent of the club and about 1.3 percent of the votes .... They have a reputation as a long-term investment company."

Baron Capital's stock buildup helps explain why Manchester United's share price has been slowly rising to near three-month highs despite the club's struggles on the pitch this season. It has also been fuelled by expectation of an announcement of a new Nike kit deal, potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

"The Nike deal is still expected to be signed, but has been pushed out from this fiscal year," Baron Capital says on its website.

Manchester United is one of the sports world's most lucrative brands, despite struggling this season following the departure of long-time manager Alex Ferguson. As well as winning last year's Premier League, Manchester United topped English soccer last season on the revenue front with 363.2 million pounds ($602 million).

Currently lying in sixth place in England's Premier League, it's facing the prospect of not qualifying for next season's Champions League, Europe's top club competition. Its best remaining chance of qualifying is to win the competition but it faces an uphill task of going further following a 2-0 first leg defeat to Greece's Olympiakos in the last 16.

A failure to qualify could dent revenues next season at a time when new manager David Moyes is widely expected to embark on an expensive rebuild of the squad.

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