Man Utd considers partial Asian flotation

Manchester United's owners, the Glazer family, are considering a share sale in Singapore to help raise money to reduce some of their debts.

The BBC's sports editor David Bond says an initial public offering (IPO) is one of a number of refinancing options the American family is examining.

But, he says, they are only considering selling a minority stake - perhaps no more than 25%.

If successful, such a move could raise £400m ($657m).

The Old Trafford club was listed on the London stock market until it was taken over by the Glazers in 2005.

Small sale, big move

A partial share sale would mean that no outside person could take control of the club.

At the same time, it would provide the Glazers with much needed revenues that would help pay down some of the debt that was taken on to finance the takeover.

In March, Manchester United's chief executive David Gill said that the club had net debt of £370m and annual interest payments of £45m.

"They clearly need to relieve their debt burden from a financial point of view," Ben Heyhoe Flint of Fuse Media told the BBC's Asia Business Report.

"Financially, this is going to make sense," he added.

"They're going to open the door to fans by creating a foothold in Asia. They're also going to open up channels to new sponsors. I see this as a more aggressive move to make an even bolder presence in Asia."

Growing market

United has more than 300 million fans around the world and more than 190 million of those are in Asia.

The region has become a growth area for the club and other Premier League teams.

Image caption Football is one of the fastest growing sports in Asia

"Tottenham Hotspur are coming through here prospecting; Chelsea is setting up management operations," Fuse Sport's Mr Heyhoe Flint explained.

"All of them want to engage with the fans out here, find partners, increase their TV distribution and increase their commercial partnerships."

Analysts said that the rise in football's popularity may help Manchester United get a better price for its shares by tapping into this new fan base.

"They will pay a higher price to say they own a piece of Manchester United," said Stephen Schechter, chairman of London-based investment bank Schechter Co.

He added that the Glazer family would also be keen to free up capital for reasons other than just servicing their debt.

"Obviously the leverage has been bothering the Glazers so they want to use whatever cash they get in to get a return for themselves on capital, to reduce leverage and to give Manchester United cash to go out and buy players," Mr Schechter said.

No comment

Manchester United and chief executive David Gill have not commented on the plans for a share sale in Asia.

In March, Manchester United's parent company said it made a loss of £108.9m in 2009-10. Red Football Joint Venture is the Glazer family parent company that owns the Old Trafford club.

Its loss, for the year to the end of July 2010, included one-off costs from setting up a £526m bond scheme last January to replace outstanding debts of £509m.

There was also a drop in player sale income, compared to the previous summer when Cristiano Ronaldo was sold.

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