United fans are a special breed. In an era where fans of other teams are gagging for foreign ownership and the mere chance of a sugar daddy at helm, we made it clear that we didn’t want the Glazers in charge. Unfortunately, the world isn’t a democracy and the power of the people counts for nothing. The Glazers bought the club in a manner which, somewhat perplexingly, seemed to make the club the insurance policy if the club were to fail. To reiterate that seemingly nonsensical point, Manchester United is the forfeit should the Glazers be unable to repay their debts. The Glazers got themselves into debt to buy the club and should they fail to pay those debts, they lose the club.
At this point it’s important that I clarify a couple of things. Firstly, I’m not an expert in any sense of the word. I’m a 20 year old who isn’t at university and failed his A-levels miserably. It’s fair to say I have no higher education in the fields I’m about to discuss. Secondly, while I’m a United fan, I’m neither pro- nor anti-Glazer and try to view things objectively. Whatever mush I spout from this point onwards is going to be independent of either side. For a start, as distrustful as I think the Glazers have shown themselves, I fear MUST are no better. The reason I’m writing this is because of the IPO and its reaction on Twitter last night, where I found myself with some ideas which I thought would be worth sharing in a format longer than the average tweet.
Few but the most hardcore Glazer fans would correct me when I say that their ownership has at times overshadowed the club. During periods of unprecedented success we’ve still had to put up with a nagging fear of our financial future and the chance that our latest conquest might be our last. Ask any Liverpool fan who enjoyed their glory years, the trophies stopped flowing long before they got to say goodbye to their success. It snuck up on them, as it has done even more recently with Arsenal. It took four years for Arsenal fans to realise they’d gone far too long without a trophy.
The difference here is that football belongs to businessmen now. For all their faults — and I stress that there are many — the Glazers’ best interests include the best interests of the club. If the club fails to pay for itself, the Glazers lose their crown jewel. Losing the club, to put it as simply as possible, is not something the Glazers even want to consider. In this case, that means ensuring the financial safety of the club. Despite what some will tell you — some of whom are dubiously being credited as experts — the club isn’t in financial danger. It is, however, in danger of losing its competitive edge. The club can afford to be uncompetitive on the field but still drive in large revenues thanks to its marketability. Long term, that will have a negative impact as glory hunting fans turn away from Old Trafford. Yes, as much as we despise them, the infamous glory hunters are almost key to success.
Possibly the most grinding issue with many fans is the way that the Glazers are exploiting them to pay off their debts. To them I say: “Duh”. Biases aside, it’s brilliant business nous from the Glazers. In the same way the church is rich due to the devotion and faith of its followers, United ‘the brand’ will be rich due to the devotion and faith of its followers. People complain about ticket prices from such a narrow perspective it’s almost offensive, particularly when they try to say that the waiting list for season tickets shows this. To the contrary, dear friends, it’s much the opposite.
Allow me to explain. Imagine you own a bar which charges people £5 to enter. Your bar is the most popular bar and fills up every weekend. Unfortunately, you can only get 200 people in through the door otherwise health and safety will have you begging for mercy. As a result, you let the first 200 punters in through the door and have everyone else line up outside, letting them in only if someone else leaves. This means your takings for the evening are £1,000. Not bad, you say. The problem, as any economist will tell you, is that you’re too cheap. If you have people waiting outside when you’re charging £5 then you can raise the price and get away with it. After a meeting with your accountant you raise the price to £7. You still fill the bar without any problem but now the line outside is a lot smaller, sometimes only a couple of people are waiting outside. Would you, as a business owner, deem this a failure? You’re now making £1,400 which is an increase of £400. Who would say no to £400 extra without doing any extra work? Exactly.
That’s what the Glazers have done with ticket prices. To use some fancy economics terms, the Glazers have matched up the supply (the price of the tickets) to the demand (the amount of people willing to pay that price) perfectly, which is known as the market equilibrium. The small waiting list isn’t a failure on their behalf, it actually proves their shrewd thinking.
Negatively, of course, this means that many true United fans are priced out of tickets and instead we have daytrippers take their place. It doesn’t take an expert to see the decline in atmosphere at Old Trafford over the past few years. For the Glazers, this doesn’t matter. They’re making more money and the atmosphere — or lack thereof — doesn’t have a detrimental effect to the team.
A lot of what’s happened around the club since their take-over echoes this sentiment. The Glazers have simply taken a business with millions of people who are incredibly brand-loyal and exploited them by pushing prices up to the equilibrium. Nike release a new shirt every year because the amount they spend replacing the shirts is nothing compared to the amount they make selling them, for a further example. It seems unfair to us as fans but as long as the money keeps rolling in the strategy will continue to work for the Glazers, the club’s corporate sponsors and everyone else who profits from the club’s success. Bearing in mind that ‘success’, here, is not limited to on-field achievements but to high revenues. Admittedly, the two are not mutually exclusive: the greater the on-field success, the greater the revenues is a generalisation but an accurate one at that.
Solving this problem is simple from a logical, objective perspective but heart-wrenchingly difficult from an emotional one.
A financial boycott.
The only way to send a message to the Glazers is via their pocket. Open letters, protests, etc are all useless. Open letters get set before a PR man who will appease the crowd, should they even bother replying. Protests increase awareness and, as anyone who works in publicity will tell you, that’s nothing more than free marketing once the initial hoo-hah dies down. If revenues start dropping, however, the Glazers will get the message.
Revenues are generally made from sales. Sales, in turn and as I’ve already mentioned, are made when the supply (the price of the items available) seems fair enough to satisfy the demand (the amount of people willing to pay that price). Now, as fans, we can’t change the supply. Regardless of MUST’s position on fan ownership, it’s not a ‘here and now’ option. Bluntly, the club aren’t going to drop their prices because we ask them to. We can, however, change the demand. Quite simply, we refuse to pay the price. We refuse to buy official merchandise, season tickets, match tickets, tours, refreshments inside the stadium and so on.
If enough people refuse to pay the price then there will be a large drop in demand. That, in turn, will cause revenues to fall. This is something that the Glazers will have no choice but to listen to. Remember, if they can’t make their payments then they lose the club.
Unfortunately, there is no perfect option and this will leave two issues for us, as fans, who love and support the club:
1) The Glazers might drop prices a little bit (matching the equilibrium of the new demand) and appease everyone once again. This is a problem for us as fans because it’ll give the Glazers popularity with fans who were only upset because they were out-priced. Say what you will, there are a lot of fans who are ‘angry’ at the Glazers because they can’t go to games. If they can go to games then their complaints regarding other issues will cease. The opposition to the Glazers drops.
2) The Glazers might choose to play hardball and see the club fall into financial disrepair. While it makes terrible business sense, they do have us by the nads and I’m sure there’s a ruthless streak in most multi-millionaire businessmen. Even if they don’t try to play hardball, the lack of money might kill the club anyway. Remember, the club could probably function in mid-table for a substantial amount of years while the Glazers clear off the debt. We might end up with nothing to play for over a period of five years while the Glazers clear the debt, losing too much ground to catch up once the debt is cleared.
As it stands, the club is financially safe. The IPO, for example, is proof that the Glazers are comfortable. The revised IPO is alleged to see 50% of the money go into the club while the Glazers pocket the other 50%. If times were desperate at Old Trafford we would’ve seen better terms for the new shares and all of the money go back into the club. Right now the Glazers seem comfortable enough to take some of the money for themselves and leave some in the club. Once again, bleeding the fans for their cash. In case it’s not blindingly obvious by now, please don’t buy the shares. You’re getting precious little for your money. I could explain that but I see no point in doing so for now.
Ultimately, United aren’t in dire straights but the club is in some danger. While I despise the way the Glazers have sneakily forced United fans to each chip in and help clear the debt (while taking all the profit for their own needs) the old adage rings true: “Better the devil you know”. It’s easy to forget how much the Glazers need United to be successful; they want success just as much as we do. The next owners might not feel that way. Alternatively, we might find ourselves a sugar daddy and, while that seems great, I’d ask you all to picture Chelsea FC should Abramovich walk away tomorrow.
I’m happy with a healthy, independent club, thank you very much.
My message, as always, is for us all to educate ourselves. I began my personal boycott years ago but one man’s actions are a mere drop in the ocean. As a group of United fans, with no motive beyond our love for the club (this means you, MUST), we should group together and pick our best option before wholeheartedly committing to it.
We may be the Red Devils but we sold our soul to the Devil himself. The question is, how do we win it back?