The Glazer family, the American owners of prominent Premier League club Manchester United, are further attempting to address rising fan unrest surrounding the club by developing a new equity structure in which supporters would own shares in the club, carrying the same voting rights as Glazer family shares.
Building upon a prior effort in which the Glazers said they intend to give fans a greater say in the club’s future, a recent online meeting between the Glazers and the Manchester United Fan’s Forum saw the initial unveiling of a new Fan Share Scheme that seeks to create a new class of shares for club supporters.
The exact size of the planned offering and other financial details have not yet been finalised, but the club said that the effort “would establish a foundation for supporters to build a meaningful ownership stake and create a new spirit of partnership with the club.”
Manchester United is also planning to follow through on the prior pledge of a greater role for fans in club operations with the establishment of a Fan Advisory Board.
“As owners, we want exactly the same thing as the fans – a successful team and a strong club – and we want to work in partnership to achieve those objectives,” said Joel Glazer, Manchester United co-chairman. “Fans are the lifeblood of Manchester United, and I am personally committed to ensuring that they are given an enhanced voice through the creation of a Fan Advisory Board and a Fan Share Scheme.”
The Glazer family, continuing to work in collaboration with the Manchester United Supporter’s Trust (MUST), intend to have plans for the fan equity offering in place before the beginning of the next Premier League season in mid-August.
“The club has been in discussion with MUST regarding a Fan Share Scheme for a number of months and has already sought external legal advice on options,” Manchester United said. “Discussions will now intensify, with the aim of agreeing a plan before the start of the new season.”
Glazer additionally said he did not oppose “fans owning as many shares as possible and building up a meaningful stake.”
The latest moves follows a period of marked unrest for Manchester United following its ill-fated move to join the proposed European Super League, an effort that the club and the other Premier League entrants involved have since renounced. But the effort still prompted a proposed boycott of club sponsors, and the postponement of a May 2 match against Liverpool FC after protestors stormed the pitch at Old Trafford.
Additionally in the works are further improvements to the aging Old Trafford.
“Old Trafford is at the heart of Manchester United, and while we have spent over £100m ($142m) on infrastructure projects, we will now accelerate the process of planning much more significant investment and upgrades to the stadium,” the club said.
The Glazer family also owns the National Football League’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are defending Super Bowl champions.
Glazer’s appearance at the Fan’s Forum was his first at the event in more than 15 years, and over the Zoom-based session, he spent more than two hours with the group, mostly fielding an extended series of highly pointed questions.
MUST, for its part, took a highly reserved tone following the unveiling of the planned share offering, though it acknowledged the move could be “potentially revolutionary.”
“MUST is cautious about whether this Fan Share Scheme will meet their own tests before they give it approval as despite the huge concession on voting rights this proposal signals as ever they devil is always in the detail,” the trust said.
“In particular, despite Joel Glazer’s assertion that this will be the ‘largest fan ownership group in world sport,’ MUST is concerned that there is a risk that the scheme will limit the number of Fan Shares made available so reducing the opportunity for this to achieve a meaningful collective fan ownership stake – and ultimately with the potential to result in a change in control of the club,” the trust said.
Manchester United finished second in the Premier League during the 2020-21 season behind crosstown rivals Manchester City.
“Our goal is to win every competition we compete in, and we will continue to invest in our Academy and in the transfer market to support the manager in an effort to meet the club’s goals,” Manchester United said. “As a club we have devoted a lot of time and resources over the last several years updating and further developing our vast global scouting network to adapt to the modern football environment. This is a project that should provide a foundation for long-term success in the years to come.”