Manchester United win things. That is undeniable. They have a big support (even if it is largely located in Cornwall) and they fill the ground. That’s undeniable. And they have an extraordinarily successful manager – something we have to admit even if we don’t like some of his behaviour.
And they are so broke it is amazing they are still in business. That’s undeniable too.
And yet in the midst of this there is a group of people who want to buy the club. Even more amazingly the owners (who you might think are just about ready to jump off Beachy Head) say they don’t want to sell.
But there is a reason for this and the reason is so half baked that at first sight it is near on unbelievable.
This is how I see it going…
First, the Glazers have been putting Old Trafford prices up year on year.
Second, they ordered the selling of their prima donna for £80m, with the money going back into their kitty
Third, they started manipulating the borrowing so that most of their personal guarantees were removed. It was a complex ploy but it is the net result of the bond issue. The family are far less at risk personally than they were before.
As a result of this, without much personal risk the family now have the opportunity to take £50m a year out of the club for their own use, safe in the knowledge that no one can interfere until 2017 when the bonds have to be repaid.
So is that it? Personal wealth?
Up to a point Lord Copper, as Evelyn Waugh so wonderfully said in “Scoop” (which if you are interested in the way the media and stuff works, and you have never read, you should, in my humble opinion.)
There’s one more trick on the turntable (a meaningless phrase that I just made up, but which somehow seems quite appealing). It goes like this…
They have a dream. A vision. Which if they could pull it off would give the family power and funding that would make the possibility of a Glazer as President of the USA a near racing certainty. But it is a gamble that is so high-risk that the chances against it coming off are enormous. It is the sort of risk that no one in their right mind would dream of taking on – unless it was with other people’s money.
The dream is that within five years of everyone will be chatting, betting, watching, and doing all that geeky stuff on line using extra fast broadband and extra HD screens. And the focus of their on line world will be the EPL – in particular the brand Man U.
Of course we have heard all this before, but the argument here is that what has held the internet back is the quality of the picture. Get that right – make the picture via broadband as good as the picture on your 42 inch HD TV and then everyone will watch that way. The TV stations will be a thing of the past, and all rights will be owned by the clubs who licence out each match on the internet. Pay per view for the games, the reserves, the training, while you also gamble and buy the shirt. Coronation Street no longer appears on ITV, it is on MUTV.
A new approach to football, a new approach to life, with Manchester United at its very centre.
Frightening stuff, except….
Except… if they have got this right it will be a first time anyone has made a successful guess within digital technology. In short the history of the digital revolution has been a history of getting it wrong. or (in a few cases) getting it right by pure accident.
Here’s some fairly well known errors… Like the moment IBM’s chief exec said that computers had a future, but there would probably only be a need for 50 of them or so world-wide. Or the moment IBM thought the PC so pointless that they outsourced the code to a bunch of pizza eating students in a diddy firm called Microsoft.
Or the moment the Boots spin-off Freeserve came along and was quickly worth five times the value of its parent company despite the fact that it had no income stream, and then shrank to nothing.
Remember the days when everyone poured into the dotcom revolution, and the bank managers were wetting themselves because they thought they would be sidelined, because they were not lending enough to the dotcoms. (Apparently the high street would be dead in 2001 so they had to move fast).
In fact the history of digital technology has not been a history of success, but of absolute failure, mistakes and bankruptcies. Most people in the media remember this because they remember ITV Digital, Setanta UK, the near destruction of the music industry by digital technology because of wrong guesses, and the fact that most digital technology is cracked. Just ask anyone in the business about the holes inside Internet Explorer – the most used browser in the world. Or look at this week’s report on the latest botnet to be found – when asked which top companies had been compromised the man who oversaw the closing of the botnet said, “it is a lot quicker to tell you which of the top firms were not compromised.”
Or remember that texting was invented as an irrelevant add on to the mobile phone which might be of interest to a few oddballs. Or the fact that Bill Gates and co thought that writing DOS was something to do between eating pizzas.
The Glazers might well have a dream of a ditigal empire based around the Man U brand showing every aspect of the Man U world on line all the time – but the fact is that today anyone anywhere in the world can find any EPL football match available on line somewhere. OK the quality might be poor, but just as the quality of the Man U games will rise, so will the quality of those Chinese links that provide this sort of TV for the world to watch, free of charge.
However you look at it, this view of the Glazers is naive. It is based on a vision of reality that applied in the 18th century when the Duke of Newcastle had the absolute right to control the export of coal from the area. And even in those days you had smugglers who got round the tolls that the nobs imposed.
As I have looked at the growing suggestions that the Man U owners are going to try and set up some sort of internet sports monopoly I have puzzled over whether maybe they knew something special that had escaped the attention of everyone else. Then I heard one of the speakers at a big Soccerex football conference that they seem to hold every other week in Dubai, who said something like this. “The internet is currently all about pornography, but in five years time with high speed HD broadband, it will be all about sport,” and I knew that there was nothing special going on.
According to the US Department of Justice, about 1.1% of the sites indexed by Google and Microsoft are “sexually explicit”. If you haven’t got that bit of info right, then you are not going to build a brand bigger than Google.
Of course I am just a commentator sitting at home writing a blog – I have no access to the Man U files or the thoughts of their owners. All I am trying to do is put the bits of information that are out there together, so that I can try and draw a conclusion or two. If you come up with a different reason to explain the behaviour of the Man U owners fine. But what I would say is if I am right, and they have decided to go down this path, it is a rather clever trick, because
a) it has cost them nothing
b) they are getting millions of pounds out of it each year
c) if the internet trick proves to be a failure, so what – they keep their profits
d) if by some quirk they do pull it off, and we all have to pay them to watch football on TV, then they don’t even have get a member of the family nominated to become President of the USA. They’ll have more power than the President already.
e) And if as I think they have got it wrong, then Man U goes bust. Hey ho. Win some lose some.
© Tony Attwood 2010.
This article is taken from the preliminary sketches from my follow up to “Making the Arsenal”. I’m not 100% sure of the title, but I really do love, “Arsene was right; we just didn’t notice”
> Picklive – The new online football game you play whilst watching live
televised football matches as previously mentioned here relaunches as
Picklive on Monday. The first match they are covering as Picklive
will be Arsenal’s Champions League game against FC Porto on Tuesday
night (live on Sky Sports 2). £100 will be up for grabs and it’s free
to play. Check it out here: http://football3s.com and the new site
- All change with PGMO and the refs.. But what change?
- The last five years proves one big thing: nothing is guaranteed.
- Injuries Time to sack Tierney according to one part of the media
- Next season starting lineup and the new Financial Fair Play rules
- The huge bias of referees is proven. PGMO and media fight back.