Have Manchester United become ‘more than a club’?
In the world of sport there are few sides that can claim to match the importance of Manchester United. United are a side whose achievements remain largely unmatched, who have won almost every honour available to them and whose appeal has spanned generations. In a purely sporting sense few can rival Manchester United.
But have they become more than just a club?
The motto ‘mes que un club’ is of course synonymous with FC Barcelona, a symbol of status for a club that has dominated the upper echelons of European football for so many years now. To be more than a club is to extend far beyond football, and for Barcelona this has meant becoming a symbol not only for the city but also for Catalan culture more generally.
The cultural significance of Manchester United shouldn’t be discounted, but as an institution the normal association is a commercial one. Manchester United the global marketing machine, the business that sees the famous red shirt adorned in every park, school and sports ground across the world.
This is far from a recent phenomenon, but one that Ed Woodward and his peers’ hope will continue to accelerate the club towards international supremacy. Recent figures would suggest that the club are well on their way to achieving these lofty ambitions.
The notable headlines include record quarterly revenues of £123.6m, with the club expecting an annual return in excess of £500m, something that no other football club has managed in history. Forbes has placed Manchester United fifth in its list of club valuations with an estimated worth of $3.1bn, with a long list of subsequent commercial deals only likely to bolster this position further.
The news wasn’t all positive for United though with profit for the period down from £8.9m to £5m, owing largely to losses incurred on player trading.
United executive vice chairman Ed Woodward made the following comments:
“Our record first quarter revenues and EBITDA demonstrate the continued strength of our businesses.”
“We are delighted with the early progress made in licensing. During the quarter we entered into an agreement with HCL to be our Digital Transformation partner, which will enable us to connect with our fans around the world in innovative ways and further strengthen and grow our commercial revenues.”
Fans though will be keen to ensure that financial obsession isn’t to the detriment of the clubs playing ability. The side have slumped in the post-Ferguson era, and despite an overhaul from Louis van Gaal, have remained largely off the pace in relation to domestic honours. This though is less a case of investment, more the result of short-sighted footballing policies that have been employed over the last few seasons. The considerable financial outlay that has seen the likes of Angel di Maria and Anthony Martial arrive at Old Trafford in recent times is suggestive of an increasingly ambitious transfer policy.
The revenue streams continue to drive United’s investment but with a well publicised debt burden it is always worth sounding a note of caution. The club’s recent refinancing packages have seen gross debt increase beyond the £400m mark, with lower interest rates largely tempering the effect this has had on their overall net debt position. The Swiss Ramble is as ever an excellent source of further reading on this topic.
So have United really established themselves as a global institution?
In reality this feat was achieved some time ago, both in footballing and financial terms. United have dined at the sporting top table for decades, the main contention that remains is as to whether they can become the defining financial force and if recent figures are anything to go on the chances are high.
Whilst van Gaal’s footballing revolution remains in its infancy, the quest for financial supremacy appears to be nearing an inevitable conclusion.
Will United become the most valuable club in the world come 2016?