After being toppled from its position as the richest club in the world by Real Madrid last season, Manchester United’s off-the-pitch activities appear to be in some turmoil following the exit of its commercial and financial bosses last week.
The departures of commercial director Andy Anson and finance director Nick Humby are the latest development in a continuing management shake-up in the wake of Malcolm Glazer’s £790m takeover of the club in June 2005. While the UK’s richest club acted swiftly to play down any suggestions of internal upheaval, the announcement has done little to ease concerns among fans over the US tycoon’s increasing stranglehold at Old Trafford.
When the pair leave next February, chief executive David Gill will be the only senior official to withstand the transition to the new private ownership regime. Shortly after seizing control, Glazer – owner of NFL American football team the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – appointed sons Joel, Avram and Bryan as non-executive directors. A further three siblings were added to the board in June this year.
Marketing director Peter Draper, a former Umbro Sportswear marketing chief, was also among those to leave earlier this year, amid rumors he had been muscled out by the new owners. The post remains vacant, but sources suggest the search for a successor to both Anson and Draper is now under way. Yet the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust, previously Shareholders United, which was bitterly opposed to the takeover, has called for further explanation of the exits.
While the club remains tight-lipped over the precise reasons for the latest departures, industry commentators draw a direct link with the Glazers’ dominance. Earlier this year, the club secured a record £56.5m, four-year shirt deal with American International Group (AIG), the world’s largest insurance company, cutting short a £9m tie-up with Vodafone.
Who is pulling the strings?
Official reports suggest Anson was instrumental in negotiating the AIG deal, but experts think Glazer was the real driving force. Despite the structural changes that have taken place under his rule, many believe the American billionaire has yet to put a firm footprint on the Man Utd brand.
At the time of the takeover, suggestions the new owner would use gate receipts, media fees and sales of merchandise to boost United’s revenues – including plans to raise ticket prices by as much as 54% – provoked outrage among fans. While many of the changes have yet to materialise, having incurred more than £500m of debt to acquire the club Glazer no doubt has his sights firmly set on realising the commercial potential of his business investment. A sports industry commentator says: “Arguably removing the historical bastions of the business allows the Glazers to do more of what they want.”
Phil Carling, head of football at sports marketing agency Octagon, says the focus is likely to be on developing the Man Utd brand across the Far East as it moves to capture the allegiance of a rapidly expanding but fickle fan base.
While an estimated 40 million of United’s 74 million fans reside in Asia, Carling says only a fraction of its revenue comes from the region. “The issue is how to create structures and work commercially to capture and monetise that franchise,” he says.
The departure of yet another two executives from Man Utd’s past signals further changes are still to come, as Glazer gears up to actively exploit revenue streams from a club seemingly returning to form on the pitch.