Man USA: new team idea may tempt Glazers

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The Independent Football

As the Glazer family survey the options available as they consider how to maximise the commercial benefits of their takeover of Manchester United, a fascinating prospect has been raised by analysts here. Tycoon Malcolm Glazer might just be tempted to create a Manchester United USA team to play in America's soccer league.

As the Glazer family survey the options available as they consider how to maximise the commercial benefits of their takeover of Manchester United, a fascinating prospect has been raised by analysts here. Tycoon Malcolm Glazer might just be tempted to create a Manchester United USA team to play in America's soccer league.

Mexico's largest football team, Chivas Rayadas del Guadalajara, already have Chivas USA. Glazer's team could play at one of the three Major League stadiums dedicated to football in the United States, with three more to come. With more airtime and more games actually being played, the Glazers should be able to sell fans more shirts and other merchandise.

Some sound a note of caution about the idea. One sports expert said if the National Hockey League failed to restart - their players are on strike over pay - there might be room for football. Another said unlike America's northern neighbour, Canada, where fans tend to follow a range of international games, Americans remain essentially glued to their national sports.

But the US Soccer Federation think United could ride a wave. "Some 15 years ago we hadn't competed in a World Cup for 40 years, there was no professional league and hardly any games were on the TV. Now there is a professional league and we are getting 15,000 people a game," a spokesperson said.

When England kick off their two-match American tour in Chicago this week, Glazer will be paying close attention to how many people turn out to watch. The billionaire owner of American football team the Tampa Bay Buccaneers must make Britain's largest football club a success in the US if he wants to transform it into a truly global brand.

Yet the task of getting Americans interested in "soccer" is daunting. While local teams exist - Washington's DC United currently reign supreme in the country's Major League - football has remained a niche foreign sport compared to the national obsessions of American football, basketball and baseball.

There have been attempts to bring the game into the mainstream, but with only limited success. Vinay Bedi, of brokers Wise Speke, said: "The market has been really volatile. There have been times when it has looked like soccer was just about to take off in America and then it has just died a death again."

Glazer and his bankers, who have loaned him £275m to finance the United deal, believe a lot has changed since the boom and bust days of the Pele and Best era of the Seventies. A successful national league finally got off the ground in 1994, and the industry estimates a total of 18 million play every year. That includes children, encouraged to play by schools and by parents - hence the term "soccer moms" - because it is less dangerous than American football. It also includes women, who have won two World Cups. The men won unprecedented national support in 2002 when they reached the quarter-finals in Korea.

United already enjoy a strong foreign following. Of their 75 million followers worldwide, by far the largest fanbase is in Asia. Almost 41 million people follow the team there, creating huge opportunities for the Glazers to increase sales of low-cost versions of the merchandise.

In America, fans have more money to spend, but the following is far more muted. Despite the club touring twice in the past two years, the number of United fans in North and South America isfewer than five million. Glazer hopes to change that.

Robert Leffler, president of the Leffler Agency, a sports adverting specialist, said: "If you've been exposed to NFL-style marketing and sales of spin-offs, you recognise that great international teams such as Manchester United, Real Madrid or Santos really could do a tremendous amount of international marketing."

Top of the list for the new management, led by Glazer's son Joel, could be TV deals. At the moment, football is available on cable, but games are often reruns and aired at obscure times. More interviews might make it more attractive.

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