One month after a bread line of experts giving implied opinions on the sanity of potential MANU (stock symbol) buyers hasn’t stopped Manchester United from floating shares of the club on the New York Stock Exchange. The offering may have opened at a lowered price of $14 per share (when $16-20 had been speculated), but the price has held. As of this typing, MANU was trading at $14.02 (see it now) which would still value the club at the $2.3 billion Forbes magazine speculated when making its list of the most valuable sports teams in the world.
In the lead up to today’s IPO, I’d decided to be surprised if the stock didn’t tank. But I’m not. Perhaps that’s because I do things like decide when to be surprised, but that’s not important. What is (or, was) important is this stock gets you almost nothing. There are no plans for dividends, and the voting rights are diluted such that the Glazer family (current owners) can’t lose control of the club. While all those bitter blog posts about the inanity of this offering my have been fueled by bitter, jaded incredulity at some NFL types being able to use amoral U.S. finance to buy one of England’s storied clubs, they analysis was still right. Buying this stock is little more than handing the Glazers your money so they can pay down their debt. You’re giving them the money they used to buy Manchester United.
But I didn’t think out my decision to be surprised. I looked at it from my ivory tower of judgmental cynicism, not from the point of view of a United fan. For them, it’s $14 of deflated United States currency to be able to say “I own a piece of my favorite club.” Is it a significant piece? Is it something that is actually worth $14 in real terms? Doesn’t matter. Give a fan a chance to buy a piece of the club for a fraction of a ticket price and it sounds like a deal.
Fans buy tons of things that have little real world value. They buy subscriptions to websites, video channels, and fanzines. They buy commemorative programs, shirts, and scarves. They fly around the world to see their club. They call player signatures autographs want them on paper they’ll eventually lose, the material far less valuable then the memory of a player doing anything at their behest.
Compared to all these things, a sliver of ownership is a big deal. You get to say you own part of the club, which in the circles fans tend to run in has more cache than saying Jonny Evans signed your World Football Challenge ticket. The stock’s only meaningless to us that don’t care.
The Glazer family have offered a foolish investment, one that mocks its supporters while belittling their intelligence. But it doesn’t belittle their emotion – their blind devotion to crest and color. The Glazers have made them owners.