United to demand deal to protect fans

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The Independent Online

The board of Manchester United is likely to insist on a package of measures to placate fans, including a freeze on ticket prices, in return for agreeing to recommend an £800m bid for the club from the American sports tycoon, Malcolm Glazer.

Sir Roy Gardner, the chairman of Manchester United, may also demand that Mr Glazer creates a "fans trust" giving supporters a seat on the board of the privately owned company that will take control of the club.

The owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers American football club may also be asked to guarantee the rights of Old Trafford season ticket holders.

Mr Glazer, who already owns a 19 per cent stake in Manchester United, is likely to table a formal offer as early as today to buy out the club's biggest single shareholder, Cubic Expression, for 300p a share. That would net John Magnier and JP McManus, the Irish horse racing duo behind Cubic, a profit of £70m on their 29 per cent stake. Cubic is thought to be holding out for a price of 310p. At that level, Manchester United would be valued at £812m.

The primary fiduciary duty of the Manchester United board is to achieve the maximum price possible for shareholders. But sources close to the club said that because 18 per cent of its shares were in fans' hands, it also had an obligation to ensure that they were not disadvantaged by any sale to Mr Glazer.

The sports tycoon caused controversy in Florida by raising ticket prices at the Buccaneers' stadium by 25 per cent and moving season ticket holders to different seats in the ground.

Sources close to Mr Glazer said that he would undertake to put a "substantial amount of new money" into the club and boost spending on new players. As far as a price freeze was concerned, they said he "wouldn't rule it in our rule it out" at this stage.

Fans were unimpressed with the pledges from the Glazer camp. Sean Bones, the vice-chairman of the Shareholders United action group, described the plans as "propaganda and soft soap" designed to make a takeover more palatable. He said: "We don't want to be taken over by Malcolm Glazer or anyone else. The customer is the most important part of any business and if he doesn't have their support, it doesn't matter if he has enough shares to take control of the club."