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SBD Global/May 9, 2013/Finance

ManU Shares Fall 5% Following Ferguson's Departure, Investors Await Financial Fallout

The bronze statue of Manchester United's Alex Ferguson watches over Old Trafford.
Shares in ManU fell almost 5% on news of Manager Alex Ferguson’s departure "and continued to fall," according to Graham Hutson of the LONDON TIMES. The club is listed on the N.Y. Stock Exchange and "the share price slide has been seen as a reflection of the lack of confidence investors have with the club’s future under new management." Ferguson, 71, announced shortly after 9am London time that "he would leave the club." The news "was greeted with decisive action by investors," who knocked $145M off the market cap of the club within minutes "by selling out of their shares." The stock price fell $0.89, or 4.8%, to $17.88 (LONDON TIMES, 5/8). CNN reported ManU's "winning team, brand and management are considered to be key reasons behind the company's impressive share price performance." However, uncertainty "now hangs over the stock." London's City Index market strategist Joshua Raymond said, "Replacing Alex Ferguson is a monumental task and one that shareholders will watch with great interest and nervous uncertainty" (CNN, 5/8).

GAUGING THE IMPACT: The BUSINESS STANDARD's Peter Thal Larsen reported Ferguson's retirement "should worry" ManU's fans and investors as much as it "delights long-suffering rivals." His 26-year reign "has gone hand-in-hand" with the club's "impressive financial rise." Ferguson's departure "will reveal how much of that value depends on the manager." Ferguson's plaudits "will rightly focus on his triumphs on the pitch." However, Ferguson's tenure also coincided with British football's "emergence as a global sport," with ManU "as its chief beneficiary" (BUSINESS STANDARD, 5/8). REUTERS' Keith Weir reported ManU itself "set out in plain language the importance" of Ferguson when it floated on the NYSE last year. In the risk factors section of official documents that accompanied the $2.3B listing, ManU said, "Any successor to our current manager may not be as successful as our current manager." Deloitte Sports Business Group partner Dan Jones said, "Manchester United has been transformed as a football club under the management of Sir Alex Ferguson." Under Ferguson, ManU has "grown into a global brand that claims to have more than 650 million followers around the world." With CEO David Gill "also stepping down this summer, it's suddenly all change at the club." ManU Exec Vice Chair Ed Woodward "will take over many of Gill's duties and work with the new manager on player signings" (REUTERS, 5/8).

GLAZER CONNECTION: In London, David Conn wrote companies "must set out for investors the risks to their future success." ManU Owners the Glazer family "dutifully detailed their worst nightmares" in the club's annual report. It says, "Our business" depends on "our ability to attract and retain key personnel." That "frank assessment" for a money market to which the famous ManU has been flung, "is a central truth about even modern, sophisticated football, which this club embodies more than any other." They can "have all the revenue streams, global sponsors and 'digital followers' possible, yet what might seem a licence to print money flows from success on the pitch and one person, the team manager, is still utterly central to that" (GUARDIAN, 5/8). The FINANCIAL TIMES wrote more than most businesses, "successful football clubs suffer an extreme form of key man risk." In the psychology of football -- "a sport that manufactures dreams and illusions, not an industry that makes widgets -- success and failure embody the personal qualities of the man in charge." That "is the manager, not the owner" (FT, 5/8).
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