Will Man Utd’s plans to sell shares to fans change anything at the club? An expert’s view

We spoke to football finance expert Kieran Maguire about the news that Manchester United are in advanced talks to sell shares to the Supporters’ Trust, to find out what it might mean for fans.

Manchester United supporters at Old Trafford. Credit: Getty.

Football finance expert Kieran Maguire has told ManchesterWorld there are still plenty of uncertainties around Manchester United selling shares to fans, and just what impact this will have.

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“We are in advanced talks with MUST about a Fans’ Share Scheme which would open a path for fans to build, over time, a meaningful ownership stake in Manchester United,” the club said in an official statement.

“This would give fans a strong collective voice within our ownership structure and help cement a new spirit of long-term partnership between fans and the club.”

While no announcement is expected immediately, we spoke to Kieran Maguire, an academic and commentator who runs the Price of Football website, about how significant this news could be for supporters who have long grown tired of the Glazer family’s ownership of the club.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer speaking to Avram Glazer in 2019. Credit: Getty.

Still plenty of unknowns

Kieran explained that until an official agreement is in place, it’s difficult to know how significant this will be for fans. He says it could be a big positive for supporters or mere tokenism from the Glazers.

“I think there are a couple of positives, but the majority of it is still uncertain,” he said. “It looks like they’re going to administer around $10million worth of shares, which works out at about 600,000 shares.

“The good thing from the fans’ point of view is that these shares are what are referred to as the B shares and they carry 10 votes each. These are the same as the ones that the Glazers hold. The bad news is that the Glazers already have 119 million of these B shares, so 600,000 isn’t going to move the dial.

“But if the Supporters’ Trust can leverage these shares and they can manage to allow these owners to have some significant say at boardroom level and to make sure the voices of the fans can be heard, then it’s a positive. If not, it looks like tokenism from the Glazers.”

An anti-Glazer protest caused the postponement of United’s game with Liverpool in May. Credit: Getty.

Glazers still hold the power

Despite potentially releasing up to $10million worth of shares, Kieran still expects the Glazers will make all the calls at Old Trafford.

“Manchester United have 160 million shares in total in which 40 million are traded on the New York Stock Exchange and the other 119 million are owned by the Glazers and they keep them to themselves and they keep all of the voting power on the back of those as well,” he told us.

“So it’s insignificant in terms of influence and control, unless there are some conditions attached to those shares which does give the fans a voice. The Glazers own all the B shares, but have sold a lot of A shares over the last year - they’re the ones which carry just one vote. So they own around 75% of the shares, but as their shares carry 10 votes, they carry around 95% of the votes.”

Why Old Trafford could benefit

Asked if the Glazers could financially benefit from selling shares while retaining all the power at the club, Kieran explained that might not be the case.

“Not necessarily [would the Glazers make a profit on these sold shares]. The club could issue the shares to the fans, in which case it’s $10million added to the club’s bank account.

Could Old Trafford benefit from fans buying shares? Credit: Getty.

“So we need to determine what exactly is happening. Is it a case of the Glazers selling shares to the fans? Or is the club issuing new shares? In which case, the club could benefit. It could be ring-fenced for infrastructure projects, which means it could be invested in Old Trafford.

“I think the Glazers were hoping to get someone to pay to spruce up the stadium, because under Project Big Picture and the Super League proposal there were infrastructure revenues set aside. Under those circumstances, you see why they didn’t want to put their hands in their pockets themselves.”

“I suspect the club will bring out a joint statement with MUST when all of the smallprint has been approved by both parties,” he added.