James Moore: Man U on revenues loser if silverware is elusive

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The Independent Online

Outlook Manchester United is not so much a football club as it is a brand, and that fact was underlined by yesterday's results, which were reported to the Stock Exchange in New York rather than London. For the first time, commercial revenues – derived from from sponsorship deals, selling replica kit and other activities – outstripped what was generated from football, for which read selling tickets and broadcasting rights to matches. The latter was depressed by a lacklustre (by Man U's standards) year in which the team endured an early exit from the Champions League and failed to bag any domestic trophies as consolation.

That commercial revenue was desperately needed because Man U the company barely turned a profit, and that was only thanks to a chunky tax credit. Without that, it would have shown a loss, just like virtually every other football club.

The question now facing Man U the company is whether Man U the brand can continue to generate the sort of revenues it has been enjoying if Man U the club suffers through an extended period without silverware.

It's not at all unthinkable and, if it happens, will the Asian fans who have driven its corporate growth continue to fork out for the ruinously expensive replica kit that can be seen all over central Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Singapore on a Saturday?

They're half a world away from the sort of things that keep hardcore home fans loyal when clubs underperform – the shared experience of visiting the stadium with friends, the mutual consolation down the local pub after a loss, and so on.

The Premiership, that self-proclaimed "best league in the world", has become more competitive in recent years, evidenced by the raucous party the "noisy neighbours" from the blue half of the City of Manchester held to celebrate their winning a league title that was once considered United's by right.

Of course, Manchester City doesn't have to turn a profit, being backed by Sheikh Mansour and his unlimited funds. Neither does Chelsea, which has also been chipping away at Man U's footballing dominance, thanks to Roman Abramovich.

Manchester United has been at the forefront of many of the changes to the structure of football in Britain that ensured it had the financial clout to secure its long run of dominance on and off the pitch.

But now that dominance has been overhauled and its buoyant commercial revenues are at risk, is it any wonder that the club has become an advocate of financial fair play?