Football: United deal `the first of many'

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The Independent Online
THE TAKEOVER of Manchester United by BSkyB - should it go ahead unchallenged - is likely to be the first of several similar deals between England's largest clubs and media companies, according to City analysts.

"This is part of an inevitable endgame," said William Davies, a football analyst with the fund managers, Albert E Sharp. "If these [Premier League] clubs want to stay at the top, not just in England but in Europe, they need these kind of relationships [with large parent companies]."

Davies added that potential buyers will wait for the United deal to go through before making approaches to other clubs, but that those approaches will come sooner rather than later.

Analysts agree on the elite group most likely to be targeted in the near future.

"I think you've got to look at the big franchises - national brands with international potential," said Nick Batram, football analyst at the stockbrokers, Greig Middleton. "Arsenal and Liverpool would have to be top of anyone's shopping list."

Both clubs are privately owned, a fact that until now may have made them unlikely targets for takeovers. At Arsenal, where Peter Hill-Wood has been the chairman since 1982 and his father the chairman before him, the major shareholders are men who made their money in banking and property and have strong long-term links to the club. The situation is similar at Liverpool, where the Moores family have been in control for generations. Neither would normally be open to offers.

"If someone came up with a pounds 400m cash offer, it could be a different matter," said Batram. In football's new economic climate, he added: "Everyone's got their price."

Liverpool and Arsenal are certainly likely to be targets then, but their owners can still ultimately decline propositions. The case is not the same elsewhere, where stock market listings make it compulsory under law for the directors to consider offers. In this category, Aston Villa, Leeds, Chelsea, Newcastle and Tottenham are seen as being the most attractive buys.

Of these, Villa and Tottenham might attract the most interest, said Batram, as their primarily football-based activities would come free from the `baggage' of property and other interests that Chelsea, Newcastle and Leeds have in their portfolios.

"Spurs have fallen on hard times but it's still a strong brand name with a big supporter base," said Batram, adding that now Alan Sugar has intimated he may be in the mood to sell, Tottenham could be in the hands of new - probably media-linked - owners before long.

Leeds, with institutional ownership giving no protection from corporate bids, are equally vulnerable to imminent approaches.

So who will doing the buying? Joe Lewis, the billionaire financier with connections to Time Warner and stakes in several European clubs already,including Rangers, is one candidate. So too are other multi-nationals, possibly including Disney. A host of British television companies, led by Granada and Carlton will also be interested, as will cable companies like Telewest, which has a stronghold in the North-east.

"Don't rule out the cable companies," said Batram. "They may not have been big players until now, but they're looking for growth and consolidation."

The future for football, it seems, will lie as much in broadcasting boardrooms as on the pitch. Whether that will be a good thing for the game remains to be seen, but BSkyB's deal with United will certainly not be the last of its kind.

PREMIER LEAGUE BUSINESS PROFILES

ARSENAL

Majority shareholders: Danny Fiszman (28 per cent); Richard Carr (26.3); David Dein (Vice chairman, 21.3).

Chairman: Peter Hill Wood since 1982, and his father before him.

Stock market: Not listed.

ASTON VILLA

Majority shareholder: Ellis family (40 per cent)

Chairman: Doug Ellis since 1968

Stock market listed: 1996

Value: pounds 70m

BLACKBURN

Owner: Jack Walker (99 per cent)

Chairman: Robert Coar

Stock market listed: No

CHARLTON

Majority shareholders: Murray family (34 per cent); Martin Simons (11)

Chairmen: Murray (plc), Simons (FC).

Stock market listed: March 1996

Value: pounds 16.8m

CHELSEA

Majority shareholders: Ken Bates and offshore trusts

Chairman: Ken Bates, since 1981

Stock market listed: March 1996

Value: pounds 121m (as part of Chelsea Village plc)

COVENTRY CITY

Majority shareholders: Offshore trusts (70 per cent)

Chairman: Bryan Richardson

Stock market listed: No

DERBY COUNTY

Owner: Lionel Pickering (62 per cent)

Chairman: Lionel Pickering

Stock market listed: No

EVERTON

Owner: Peter Johnson (68 per cent)

Chairman: Peter Johnson

Stock market listed: No

LEEDS UNITED

Majority shareholders: City institutions

Chairman: Peter Risdale

Stock market listed: 1989

Value: pounds 42m

LEICESTER CITY

Majority shareholders: Institutional investors

Chairman: John Elsom

Stock market listed: October 1997

Value: pounds 12.5m

LIVERPOOL

Owner: David Moores (57 per cent)

Chairman: David Moores

Stock market listed: No

MANCHESTER UNITED

Majority shareholders: Edwards family (17.5 per cent; pending BSkyB takeover)

Chairman: Martin Edwards

Stock market listed: June 1991

Value: pounds 625m

MIDDLESBROUGH

Owner: Steve Gibson (75 per cent)

Chairman: Steve Gibson

Stock market listed: No

NEWCASTLE UNITED

Majority shareholder: Douglas Hall (57 per cent)

Chairmen: Denis Cassidy (plc) Freddie Shepherd (FA)

Stock market listed: April 1997

Value: pounds 102m

NOTTINGHAM FOREST

Majority shareholders: Institutional investors

Chairman: Philip Soar

Stock market listed: 1997

Value: pounds 16.5m

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY

Majority shareholders: Charterhouse development (36 per cent)

Chairman: David Richards

Stock market listed: No

SOUTHAMPTON

Majority shareholders: City institutions

Chairman: Rupert Lowe

Stock market listed: 1997

Value: pounds 13m

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

Majority shareholder: Alan Sugar (40.5 per cent)

Chairman: Alan Sugar

Stock market listed: 1983

Value: pounds 64m

WEST HAM UNITED

Majority shareholder: Terence Brown (34 per cent)

Chairman: Terence Brown

Stock market listed: No

WIMBLEDON

Owner: Blantyre Ventures (British Virgin Islands) (99.9 per cent)

Chairman: Stanley Reed

Stock market listed: No

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