By Nick Harris
23 April 2010
The Manchester United Supporters Trust’s campaign to oust the club’s American owners will move into a new phase tomorrow when MUST will start targeting the club’s sponsors and commercial partners – including Nike, Audi, Budweiser and Betfair – to ask them to “choose sides” between the fans and the Glazer family.
A huge banner bearing the sponsors and commercial partners’ names and logos will be on display outside Old Trafford tomorrow, when United face Tottenham in the 12.45pm Premier League game. The banner (below) says: “Time to choose sides: the fans or the Glazers”.
MUST says it is “appealing to the club sponsors to send a clear message to the Glazers that it is now time for them to go.”
There is no explicit threat that sponsors will be boycotted if they fail to support the fans but the message implicit in the use of the phrase “time to choose sides” suggests a battle ahead. Fans groups including Shareholders United (a forerunner of MUST) have in the past threatened boycotts of sponsors and commercial partners.
Duncan Drasdo, the chief executive of MUST says: “The message we are sending to the sponsors including Nike, Audi, Budweiser, Betfair and new shirt sponsor AON is an appeal for them to speak to the Glazers on behalf of the 154,000 members who’ve already joined MUST as well as the millions of United supporters around the world who long for an end to the damaging ownership of the Glazers. We believe they will be compelled to listen to the combined voice of the sponsors and the supporters.
“Sponsors wish to benefit from the affinity generated by association with the most loved football club in the world but the commercial value of that relationship is being diminished due to the unpopularity of the current owners.
“This is a result of the huge ticket price rises and the damage they are doing to the club by taking millions of pounds out year after year and things are only going to get worse the longer they remain in place.
“By contrast a change of ownership to a supporter owned club, bringing the whole Manchester United family back together, would create hugely enhanced value for any sponsors associated with it, particularly if they’d played an instrumental role in effecting that change.”
As well as the banner, MUST will be distributing 70,000 “recruiting cards” to supporters.
The Red Knights group of “super rich” fans hope to launch a takeover bid for the club later this year, vowing to hand part ownership to a wider fan base at a later date in a manner yet to be specified.
The Glazer family, who have frozen ticket prices at Old Trafford for next season, maintain they do not want to sell the club, which has consistently made enormous operating profits. The club has huge debt on its books as a result of the Glazers’ leverage buyout, but the Glazers insist interest payments are comfortable covered by club income.
The Red Knights are wealthy fans who have made their fortunes across various sectors including banking and hedge funds.