The two final bidders for Manchester United are under pressure to prove they can actually complete a deal should one be struck, with the English Premier League club’s American owners seeking higher offers in the next and final round of the process.
The Glazers are inviting higher offers from the bidders, with British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe and his Ineos industrial empire up against Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani, son of a former Qatar prime minister, to buy one of England’s most famous clubs.
Price is the most important of the criteria but bidders will also be assessed on their ability to complete a takeover swiftly, according to two people with knowledge of the process.
Ineos, a representative for Sheikh Jassim, and Raine Group, the merchant bank running the process, declined to comment.
The Glazer family is also considering proposals from a range of investment firms, including Elliott Management, which could result in the family retaining ownership of United. Carlyle Group, which has $376bn in assets under management, has also expressed an interest in investing in the club, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. If Carlyle is involved, a preferred equity deal would be likely, one of the people said.
United is one of the biggest brands in sport, with a fan base spanning the globe. The club has won the English league title a record 20 times, although the last of those victories came in 2013, the season legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
A sale could potentially beat the $4.6bn paid by Rob Walton, heir to the Walmart retail fortune, for the Denver Broncos American football franchise last year — a record for a sports team, though private equity billionaire Josh Harris is closing in on a $6bn takeover of US National Football League’s Washington Commanders.
The record for a Premier League club is the £2.5bn paid by US investors Clearlake Capital and Todd Boehly to buy Chelsea FC last year.
Manchester United’s owners have set a deadline of April 28 for final bids. Any change of ownership requires approval from the Premier League.
Ratcliffe’s previous offer valued United at about £5bn, according to two people briefed on the matter. Ineos’s sports portfolio includes French football club OGC Nice, a third of the Mercedes Formula 1 team and the Grenadiers cycling team.
Less is known about his rival Sheikh Jassim, who intends to acquire United through a vehicle called the Nine Two Foundation. A person close to Sheikh Jassim’s bid, whose most recent value has not been disclosed, said the Nine Two Foundation had been established in Qatar. The foundation would disclose more information if it is confirmed as the preferred bidder, the person added.
“There has to be some nervousness in the eyes of Manchester United fans given the scarcity of hard information that exists with regards to the [Nine Two] Foundation,” said Kieran Maguire, a football finance academic at the University of Liverpool and author of The Price of Football.
Jassim’s father, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, known as HBJ, is also the former head of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund and one of the richest people in the world.
United shares closed at $22.02 in New York on Friday, up 1.9 per cent over the past week, valuing its equity at about $3.6bn. The club has net debt of about $880mn.
The Glazer family has owned United since a £790mn leveraged buyout led by the late Malcolm Glazer, whose use of debt to fund the acquisition infuriated fans of the club.