Amid the spending frenzy of players changing teams that is the off-season of professional soccer in England, perhaps no headline is more sensational than Ineos Chairman Sir Jim Ratcliffe suddenly declaring his interest in purchasing Manchester United Football Club of the English Premier League (EPL).
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|The glory days when David Beckham played with the team are long gone, but Manchester United is still the 11th most valuable sports team in the world.|
Valued at $4.6 billion, the club is one of the most expensive in the world — it ranks 11th on the most recent Forbes list of the world’s most valuable sports teams. No small fish and chips. A spokesperson for Britain's richest man has told The Times of London that the owner of petrochemical giant Ineos is “keen on buying a stake in the Premier League club with a view to 'long-term ownership.'”
Bringing it all back home
No stranger to sports team ownership — with professional soccer clubs in France and Switzerland, a pro cycling team, and major sponsorship of motor racing’s Formula One heavyweight Mercedes — Ratcliffe brings his passion for football home to the UK.
After a failed bid to take over London’s famed Chelsea Football Club this past spring following the forced abdication of Russian owner Roman Abramovich resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Ratcliffe may have a chance of landing Man United, which would be the crown jewel of his sporting acquisitions.
And speaking of competition, in the rarified air of billion-dollar sports ventures, competitors can be just as rapacious as those on the field, even if they are fewer in number. Twitter reported last week that none other than Tesla CEO Elon Musk had prompted over a million interactions when he expressed interest in purchasing the club. This turned out to be quite the ruse on Musk’s part, as his legal tête-a-tête continues with the social media giant. Great fodder for a day or two, as he claimed stand-up comedy is his current side gig.
The Glazer family, current American owners of the club, has never gone down well with the Red Devils fans. A leveraged buyout in 2005 left the club straddled with debt followed by accusations over the years of the Glazers taking more out of the club financially than they invested in it, have left many Red Devils fans unhappy with the ownership group. The club’s current EPL season is off to the worst start since the 1960s, leaving fans howling for change at the top. The timing couldn’t be better for Ratcliffe.
Brand it like Beckham
In the big leagues, be they sporting or business related, the biggest and the best never want to give up what they have worked so hard to achieve, dominance and exposure, i.e., sales and marketing. What better way for a global brand such as Ineos to increase market visibility and popularity with its customer base than to acquire another highly visible and successful global brand in the form of a football club that has few rivals.
Granted, Man United has lost a bit of its luster since the heady days when media darling and icon David Beckham helped the club win a ridiculous number of titles while selling shirts by the shipping container. They haven’t won a major competition since 2017, but the brand remains hugely popular on a global scale, especially in the massive Asian markets, where billions are made annually in merchandising. Undoubtedly this is not lost on Ratcliffe and can only augment Ineos’ standing as a leader in the chemicals and plastics industry.