Fans of Manchester United, bought by Malcolm Glazer and his sons in 2005, are promoting a boycott of season tickets this summer in hopes that the family will sell the team to avoid further financial hardship. And in Tampa, the team’s relationship with the fans is showing signs of strain as losses continue to mount.
The bad blood between the Glazers and Manchester United’s fan base has been long in the making. Fans’ initial reaction to the family’s takeover in 2005 led to the formation of breakaway team FC United of Manchester, with remaining fans in recent years boycotting Manchester United’s home games and shouting anti-Glazer chants at the away games.
To some extent, these first reactions back in 2005 were an expression of discontent over big business (as opposed to shareholding supporters) taking over a soccer interest, as well as to the over £850 million in club debt racked up by the Glazers in their efforts to buy the franchise. More recently, speculation has arisen regarding the loss of at least one strong player due to the Glazer’s unwillingness or inability to pay higher salaries while the team’s ticket prices have nearly doubled since the takeover.
Just last month, news broke that the Glazers were seeking a £500 million bond to repay hedge fund loans they had used to cover some of the club debt (now estimated at £716.5 million, or $1.17 billion), transferring £127 million to the parent company in the first year. In the prospectus made public at the same time, the Glazers suggested that sale of Manchester United’s training camp, or possibly the stadium itself, might be required to keep the team solvent. Then came news that the six Glazer children had borrowed a total of £10 million from the club and that the family is now approaching players to request monetary help with the team’s financial woes. All of this was more than enough for fans, who feared that the Glazers were leading the richest team in the league to ruin.
To prove their loyalty to their team, a number of fans, under the auspices of the Manchester United Supporters Trust, are attempting major moves to force the Glazers out. Before a full-on season ticket boycott is enacted this summer, the group plans to organize a ten-minute boycott at the start of the team’s March 10 game against A.C. Milan. The hope is that the sight of largely empty seats broadcast worldwide will call greater attention, from the television audience as well as from the Glazers, to fan discontent and the power they wield. With a business plan dependent on continued ticket price increases and in a season which has already seen a drop of 7,000 season ticket holders, fans hope that these boycott efforts will hit the owners hard.
Back in the U.S., the Glazers have more troubles. Owners of Super Bowl XXXVII winners the Tampa Bay Buccaneers since 1996, the family has guided the team during some of its best years, and some of its worst, with the very worst (3-13) under the Glazer’s reign happening this past season.
Disappointed football fans complain that the franchise is not looking to free agents to fill positions as much as it should, nor as much as it looks to the yearly draft to recruit younger, and generally cheaper, talent. Concerns have also been raised about the organization paying players well below the NFL’s salary cap, thus creating a less competitive and attractive landing spot for prospects.
As in the UK, there is some speculation that the Glazers are failing to pay players more because of their massive debt. Following last year’s NFL season, co-chair Joel Glazer refuted allegations that Manchester United’s woes play into the Bucs’ scenario, insisting instead that the family has a sound plan for the team, largely consisting of slowly building up team talent from the college ranks, and that this plan would take patience. Considering the team’s record this season, however, it is unclear how far the fans’ patience will go.
With season ticket renewals suffering and attendance at this year’s games dropping by 10.1 percent, the Bucs have made a major move in restructuring ticket prices for next season. The new pricing schedule has some upper deck general admission seats at $35, a drop of $7 over the last two seasons. Fans may also purchase season tickets for as low as $35 per game, a drop of about thirty dollars over previous seasons. Whether or not these moves will be sufficient to draw fans back in after a losing season, and help to keep at least one of the Glazers sports franchises afloat, remains to be seen.