Bottom Line: United should score in the City

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MANCHESTER United's supporters in the City are plainly more fickle than its fans on the terraces. Having fallen 15p to 660p after last weekend's 2-0 defeat by Blackburn Rovers, the shares bounced back by the same amount on yesterday's better than expected half-time scoreline.

One of the biggest cheers yesterday was for the growth in non-gate receipts from sidelines such as the magazine, videos and catering. They accounted for more than a third of revenues in the six months to January.

The club's success in the souvenir shop depends in the end on its success on the pitch, but it is hard to think of a stronger sporting brand. It would take more than the team's recent displays of petulance to tarnish such a powerful image.

The next few weeks' matches, which will determine whether the club secures a trip to Wembley for the FA Cup Final and which European competition it qualifies for, will be crucial.

Martin Edwards, chief executive, reckons the earnings difference between being in the European Cup and the Uefa or Cup Winners Cup next season at up to pounds 1.25m.

But whatever happens in the dying moments of the season should not distract from the solidity of United's core earnings, helped by the forward selling of more than half Old Trafford's 45,000 seats.

From May, sponsorship from Sharp has been more than doubled under a new, four-year agreement.

That should help full-year profits reach around pounds 10m for a forward p/e of 11. While the low quality of a sports club's earnings demands a discount to the rest of the market, Manchester is that rare beast - a professional football club that is professionally run. Good value.