The Manchester United Supporters Trust have published an open letter to prospective new club owners calling for ownership to represent fans ‘from all backgrounds and walks of life’.
Man Utd are currently the subject of a bids from businessman Jim Ratcliffe and Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad Al Thani, the chairman of one of Qatar’s biggest banks. The latter bid and potential state ownership of the football club has caused some concern among fans, with fans being uneasy with the human rights issues in Qatar.
In an open letter written by M.U.S.T., fans have called for prospective owners to adhere to 12 key principles, including paying off the club’s debts, adhering to UK public company laws regarding governance and transparency, and continued support for the club’s women’s team. These principles are split into three subsections: ‘Debt, equity, investment and returns’, ‘Governance’, and ‘The soul of the sporting organisation’.
The letter in full reads: To any bidder for Manchester United Football Club.
We, the undersigned, represent Manchester United fans from all backgrounds and walks of life.
We understand very well why you wish to buy the Club. We believe Manchester United is the greatest sporting institution in the world and hope we will have a new owner that will nurture, invest and, most of all, recognise that their role as the steward of Manchester United is to run the club in partnership with the supporters, in a way which recognises that a football club is far more than just a commercial asset.
As you contemplate the nature of any offer you may wish to make to the present owners, we believe it may be helpful to you to understand what supporters want from any new owner, in order to secure the support of the fans. The principles below are based on our longstanding principles established over two decades as the Supporters Trust and regular open consultation with our fans.
Concurrent with the publication of this open letter we have initiated a further comprehensive consultation process reaching out to every fan group and supporter globally. This will inform updates to the contents of the live letter, including addition of co-signatories, on the link above.
Debt, equity, investment and returns
1. The present owners took Manchester United from being a club with no debt to being one of the most heavily indebted football clubs in the world. That debt has never been paid down and has hung around our neck like a millstone. Any successful bid should not be based on debt and should include a commitment to replace existing debt, and fund future capital expenditure, through new share issues.
2. Football Clubs are different from ordinary businesses. Owners of football clubs, just as all other supporters, should be giving to their club rather than taking from it for their own benefit. The present owners have taken hundreds of millions out over a prolonged period of time, during which the club has been failing. There should be no rewards for failure, and the first priority for profits should always be reinvestment into the club.
3. Manchester United needs urgent new capital investment – to modernise both the stadium and training ground, as well as long term guarantees about available spend on players across the men’s team, women’s team and youth setup. We want to hear your plan to invest substantial funds in the playing side of the club as well as in infrastructure such as the stadium.
4. Shared ownership with the fans as partners. In contrast to the current dual class share structure there should be a single class of shares with the same voting rights for all shareholders. The club should raise funds through regular share issues to fans, replacing debt with equity at every opportunity and growing the collective small fan shareholder stake.
5. If you do not intend to list Manchester United as a public company in the UK, then we expect you still to commit to the exact same levels of corporate governance, reporting and transparency.
6. The formal company governance should be supplemented by structures to ensure the voice of fans is heard at the highest level. The existing club structures of Fans Advisory Board and Fans Forum, should be extended to enhance independent representation. Fans’ interests should also be represented on the main company board as well as the creation of properly independent directors on said Board.
The soul of the sporting organisation
7. Heritage issues including club colours, name, playing location and name of the stadium are matters of vital concern to supporters. Any consideration to change them should require definitive consent of fans.
8. The words “Football Club” should be restored to the badge on the shirt.
9. Manchester United should continue to develop, support and promote the women’s team, which should be considered an important part of the future of the club.
10. Youth development and the Academy system should continue to be an integral part of the identity of Manchester United and the playing squad.
11. The club should commit to never again seek to enter any competition similar to the European Super League, and any proposal to change the competitions the club enters should require definitive consent of fans.
12. A clear plan to maintain the affordability of match tickets for ordinary fans, including the next generation of fans, is essential, including maintaining the current ticket price freeze and prioritising growth of other income streams.
The above requirements are proposed in the best interests of the club and the fans, and any good owner should not consider them excessive or unduly demanding.
At this stage, we urge any prospective bidder to enter into a dialogue with fans. We believe that doing so will help them come up with the best offer possible, and the best plan possible. We look forward to establishing a dialogue with any interested parties to understand their intentions and enlarge on the principles outlined above.