Harris right but boycott unrealistic
Financier Keith Harris believes that Manchester United fans should turn to boycott if they want to rid the club of the Glazer family. Harris, who claims to have put together a package to buy the club with a series of “Red Knight” investors, says that the green and gold protest is merely symbolic and won’t force the American owners to sell the club.
Harris, well known in the football community for brokering club buyouts, is yet to name the investors willing to buy into the club should it become available. Nor is there any sign that the Glazer family is seeking to sell after the 2005 £790 million acquisition.
Indeed, the £504 million bond issued by the club recently ensures that there is no short-term pressure on United’s finances, even if huge amounts of money will leave the club in interest, debt repayment and dividends over the next seven years.
It is the Americans’ financial mismanagement of the club that has led to renewed protests from the United faithful in recent weeks, with swathes of green and gold scarves seen at Old Trafford on matchdays.
One mooted protest includes turning up late for the upcoming Champions League fixture against AC Milan. But Harris claims that the only way to force the Glazer family from the club is to hit the bottom line by refusing to buy match tickets or merchandise.
“Turning up to games 10 minutes late and things like that just doesn’t do the job,” said Harris .
“The green and gold protest is fabulous, a symbolic and significant message to the owners. It is like the white handkerchiefs in Spain. But that won’t force the Glazers to sell to us.
“However, if enough people – and I am talking about thousands – stop turning up to matches and do not renew their tickets, then that does it. The supporters have to hurt the Glazers in their pockets.
“They have to be prepared to take the pain of not watching their club in order to achieve a long-term gain. Supporters have to be galvanised to say, ‘We will not come. We will not buy programmes and merchandise’.”
More than 30,000 fans have relinquished season tickets since the 2005 takeover, although the majority have subsequently been bought by other supporters. And while Old Trafford attendances have dropped 0.6 per cent this season – with match tickets often available on general sale – the drop-off is unlikely to impact revenues significantly.
Boycott is also an emotive issue with fans, many of whom have no wish to stop watching the team. It’s the economics of price inelasticity that the Glazer family is – quite literally – banking on.
More realistic is a scenario whereby investors buy into the club at market price because the Glazer family is happy to take a profit on an asset they invested very little of their own personal fortune in. Harris believes he has put together the finances for the bid.
“I would not talk about this if I didn’t have full confidence in our ability to raise the money to do this,” Harris added, who must raise more than £1 billion to buy the club.
“I never talk publicly unless I have confidence. Getting the money together is the easy bit. But we can’t make an offer until the Glazers are placed in a position where they are forced to consider it.”
Herein lies the rub. Even with United leveraged to the point of very little maneuver only an organised boycott on a mass scale is likely to hurt the Glazer family significantly. Putting together that protest seems vastly more difficult than selling thousands of green and gold scarves.