Manchester United: Where the power lies

March 2, 2010

The American owners of MUFC are facing tough financial times. If you use media coverage as a guide, fan power at Manchester United is high. A new challenge comes from the Red Knights financial consortium. But where does the power lie which will influence the future of the club?

It has been a good month for the fans’ pressure group at Manchester United. The media campaign is a model of how to win attention for a cause. In a recent post LWD suggested the fans were winning the battle for symbolic leadership.

A protest movement has grown in strength in recent months. Banners are displayed at home games and sometimes removed by officials. And one particularly creative idea has taken off. The protesters have appropriated the green and gold colours of the original team. Supporters wearing the shirts have stopped the financing of the club’s mega-store merchandising. But even this gesture illustrates a dilemma for the protesters. Do they attempt to weaken the club they love, to bring down its owners whom they detest?

Where the Power Lies

In eadership textbooks, power is treated uneasily, running through all the accepted leadership eras, rather than fitting nicely into one of them. Definitions of leadership prefer the term influence rather than power. Dilemmas of Leadership suggests that careful reading of leadership texts is required to reveal the ‘concealed dilemmas of power, control …coercion and conflict resolution’ (p244).

Management of change texts also struggle with the concept of power, leaving students confused about the link s between leadership, influence and power. One well-regarded text on organizational change does manage to confine it to a single chapter, suggests that the various definitions ‘have one thing in common – having power means being able to influence someone else’s behaviour (Senior & Fleming, 3rd edn, 2006: 197).

The Battle for Power at MUFC

A new financial grouping, The self-styled Red Knights, is seeking to gain power in a way which aligns with the MUST pressure group. It is likely that the two groups have been in contact, and will continue to be so in the near future.

United are owned by the Glazer family, but the club’s high level of debt – now at £716.5m – has prompted much unease. Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill, who was acting in a personal capacity, lawyer Mark Rawlinson and financier Keith Harris were at the meeting. A spokesman for the Glazers told BBC Sport: “United is not for sale.” However, United’s owners are now facing a two-pronged attack over their control of the club with the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (Must) running a vocal campaign to bring about a change of ownership. Must has recruited 53,520 members and recently started working with Blue State Digital, a communications agency that worked on Barack Obama’s successful US Presidential election campaign.

Pressure on the Glazers and its Red Football Joint Venture has increased as the level of debts has been revealed, secured against the football club. Financial status of the club also seems on the slide against global rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona. However, the headlines lose some significance when a drop to third in the ‘rich list’, a financial league table is seen as largely due to a decline in the exchange rate of the pound sterling.

“We continue to assert that the game’s top clubs are well placed to meet the challenges presented by the difficult economic environment,” said Deloitte’s Dan Jones, who compiled the [rich-list] report. “Their large and loyal supporter bases, ability to drive broadcast audiences, and continuing attraction to corporate partners, provide a strong base to underpin revenues.”

Prospects?

The Red Knights have a battle plan, finance, and links to committed and well-organised supporters. On the other hand, the club is not such a basket-case financially for there to be a quick and cheap victory. Even a £billion victory which would not guarantee that the fans will achieve the power needed for them to have a say in ticket pricing policy, for example.