Club getting its kicks after going private

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More than a year after Manchester United was taken private, its chief executive, David Gill, is decidedly happier.

Not long after the £790m takeover in May 2005 by American football tycoon Malcolm Glazer and his family – a deal Mr Gill and other executives tried to fight off – things looked alarming.

The world’s most famous club lost its £9m-a-year sponsorship with Vodafone and was knocked out of the Champions League in the first round.

On Thursday, the most Mr Gill had to worry about was spy-planes circling the club’s training ground in Carrington.

Not only is the club’s season looking rosier – six points clear at the top of the Premier League and the next stage of the Champions League beckoning – but its finances have a healthy glow too.

Mr Gill said: “If you roll the clock back 12 months, we anticipated 2006 would be a stable year. What we have managed to do is maintain a high degree of profitability. That is a given as the business goes forward.”

Man Utd is reaping the benefits of its stadium capacity expansion to 76,000. It sold 64,000 season tickets this year and has a waiting list of 10,000.

The club’s record shirt sponsorship deal with AIG is worth £14m a year and it is accruing sponsorship deals in various parts of the lucrative south-east Asia market.

Turnover officially comes in at £165.4m for the 12 months to June 30 2006, compared with £157.2m for the previous 11 months, but the club says merchandising and media partnerships take it well over £200m.

It takes something to tempt Mr Gill to use strong adjectives, so when he says in the club’s annual accounts that he expects revenues to show “dramatic growth” over the next two years, he deserves attention.

Man Utd will receive part of the £2.7bn coming into English football over the next three seasons under a new television rights contract negotiated by the FA Premier League.

Mr Gill is confident of making inroads in Asian markets, particularly China, and he wants more deals such as those concluded with Air Asia/Tourism Malaysia, Kumho Tire, Budweiser and Audi.

There is little or no prospect of more ground expansion at Old Trafford, so the focus is on exploiting further revenue-producing opportunities associated with the venue.

After the fraught takeover, which turned many fans against the club, the Glazers – especially Malcolm Glazer’s sons Joel, Bryan and Avram – have become more hands-on.

They are, said Mr Gill, closely involved in key appointments such as the new chief operating officer and commercial director, to be announced shortly.

“They don’t interfere, they are interested, particularly in areas they can add value,” the chief executive said.

Even after last year’s refinancing, the club remains indebted to the tune of more than £600m. Mr Gill said: “This is a very well-structured debt profile and all obligations can be met.” The club has senior debt of £525m, the balance met by payments-in-kind notes that are the responsibility of the Glazer family.

“We can meet all the covenants; we are very comfortable,” he said.

Mr Gill is unfazed by the prospect of a chief operating officer arriving to take over day-to-day affairs at the club while he himself represents Manchester United at the Football Association and handles player transfers and negotiations.

The decision to look outside sport appears to have the stamp of the Glazers on it. But Mr Gill has nothing but praise for the club’s owners. “The relationship now is as it’s going to be,” he said. “They know us and we know them. It’s working extremely well. They have been true to their word.”

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