- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 26, 2012

It’s not allowed in their game, but the owners of Manchester United, the world’s most valuable sports franchise, are doing it anyway: They’re calling a timeout.

The American owners of the English soccer team this week temporarily halted plans to sell shares in the team in the U.S., delaying a road trip to attract investors in the face of high market volatility because of Europe’s currency and debt crises.

Despite a new Forbes listing, showing “Man U” as valued at $2.23 billion, the team also faces a pile of debt that as recently as March 31 totaled $633 million, with interest rates as high as 8 percent. The club owners said last week they hoped to raise $300 million through their American initial public offering to help lighten the debt load.

After considering a sale on stock exchanges in Asia, Manchester United announced earlier this month plans to offer the stock on Wall Street. Before 2005, when Tampa Bay Buccaneer owners Malcolm Glazer and his family purchased United in a heavily leveraged $1.5 billion deal, the team had been traded on the London Stock Exchange since 1991.

But several indicators suggested that the U.S. market, battered by new reports of financial trouble in Spain and economic weakness around the globe, wouldn’t be conducive with the club’s efforts to attract large investors. The S&P 500 index fell 2 percent over the course of the first three days, and the VIX index — which measures the general risk for investors based on volatility in the market — shot up as the market opened Monday.

The delay in the stock sale was first reported Thursday in the Financial Times.

Manchester United representatives have refused to comment on whether the club will still look to list its shares in the market before mid-August, often a cutoff date because market activity usually wanes in the few weeks that follow.

Two weeks ago, the 144-year-old club filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission as an “emerging growth company,” a category under the U.S. Jobs Act that allows companies with under $1 billion in annual revenue to avoid several financial reporting requirements for as long as five years.

According to the Forbes survey, Manchester United, which has won 19 English national soccer titles, is the world’s most valuable sports franchise, followed by Spain’s Real Madrid soccer team, the New York Yankees, the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins.

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