Manchester United score big gains on transfer market

Gains on the sale of players such as Andrei Kanchelskis as well as cash from a video merchandising deal have doubled half-year profits at Manchester United as the club shoots for the Premiership and FA Cup double.

The sale of players netted pounds 4.3m with Kanchelskis accounting for most of the proceeds. The sale of the Russian winger as well as Mark Hughes and Paul Ince also helped reduce the wage bill by 10 per cent. The gain compared with the previous year's pounds 3.5m transfer deficit, which included the purchase of Andy Cole from Newcastle.

However, chief executive Martin Edwards dropped heavy hints that the club would make new signings in the summer, backed by its pounds 8m transfer pool.

A pounds 6m contract with the video group VCI netted a pounds 2.5m cash payment with a further pounds 3.5m due to be paid in royalties over the next 30 months.

Though pre-tax profits for the six months to December more than doubled to pounds 15.3m, sales and operating profits were held back by the lower crowd capacity at the club's Old Trafford stadium, where the pounds 28m North Stand is being developed.

Turnover fell 18 per cent from pounds 36m to pounds 30m. Operating profits fell from pounds 10.8m to pounds 8.5m.

Television revenue fell by a third to pounds 3.3m as the team is not competing in the lucrative European Champions League this year.

Match gate receipts were 12 per cent lower as the rebuilding work at the ground reduced the average attendance from last season's 43,680 to 36,400 at the beginning of this campaign. The lower crowds also had an effect on conference, catering and merchandising revenues.

Construction of the three-tier stand has been continuing ahead of schedule and spectator capacity will approach 55,000 for the last few home games of the season.

The company is also looking to develop the space within the giant stand. A further 1,500 executive seats are planned for the autumn. These currently cost pounds 21,750 for an 8-seater box for the year. The company makes pounds 7m a year from executive boxes.

Executive prices are set to rise by an undisclosed amount for next season though the price of tickets on sale on match days will be held. A 900- capacity banqueting hall and themed restaurant are also planned.

In the current year, Manchester United have signed a lucrative shirt sponsorship deal with Umbro, estimated at pounds 8m a year. Mr Edwards said United should make a total of pounds 500,000 from the five matches they are staging in this summer's European Championship.

Mr Edwards played down recent speculation that the club was considering launching its own cable TV channel which would screen live United matches. He said the rumours had "got a little out of hand". The club was contracted to a Sky TV deal with the rest of the Premiership until the end of next season. He added that any breakaway by United was likely to antagonise other clubs.

The shares, which have been strong recently, dropped 4p to 282p yesterday. Interim dividend is 1.6p, up from 1.4p.

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