Buyer beware: Apple’s interest in Man United follows DECADES of corporate failures in US sports


Apple’s reported interest in buying Manchester United has been predictably well received by Red Devils fans, who think of the current owners’ tenure like a 17-year root canal.

‘There is euphoria within the United fan base right now,’ The United Stand contributor and long-time supporter Adam Scott told British news channel, GBN.

Since buying the club in 2005, the American Glazer family has been criticized as disinterested, incapable, and unwilling to improve a team that has historically ranked as one of the best in Europe.

Not only is Manchester United facing a decade-long title drought – particularly troubling for a club that won five Premier League titles in the first eight seasons of the Glazers’ reign – but its future prospects aren’t encouraging. Old Trafford, the division’s oldest stadium, is in disrepair, and the Glazers’ reluctance to invest in the team’s infrastructure is seen by fans as pure greed.

‘The stadium is deteriorating,’ Scott told GBN.

‘No disrespect to them, but Manchester United’s infrastructure has been sidestepped by the Glazers, and the money just seems to be going into them. The dividends taken out of the club year on year and lack of investment – it’s just been too much for the fans.’

Scott was speaking Thursday, days after the Glazer family confirmed rumors that the club was for sale. Since then, a report from the Daily Star has claimed that Apple may be interested in acquiring the team for roughly $7billion – a relatively small fortune for a company valued at more than $2trillion.

If the deal does come to fruition, Manchester United would boast the richest owners in sports, eclipsing the $620bn Saudi Arabian Sovereign Wealth fund that controls Newcastle United.

But if that sounds like the cure to all United’s problems, the team’s fans would be wise to look at corporate America’s history with US-based teams. Certainly wealthy owners have an advantage with free agents and infrastructure, but companies like Disney, News Corp. and CBS have proven deep pockets aren’t everything.

Manchester United fan poses in front of a banner ahead of a march. Manchester United fans gathered and marched a half mile to Old Trafford during the Premier League game with Liverpool. The fans continue to protest against the Glazers’ ownership 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Manchester United co-chairman Joel (left) and Avram (right) Glazer intend to sell the soccer team

Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Manchester United co-chairman Joel (left) and Avram (right) Glazer intend to sell the soccer team

Old Trafford (pictured), the Premier League's oldest stadium, is in disrepair, and the Glazers' reluctance to invest in the team's infrastructure is seen by fans as pure greed

Old Trafford (pictured), the Premier League’s oldest stadium, is in disrepair, and the Glazers’ reluctance to invest in the team’s infrastructure is seen by fans as pure greed

CBS SWINGS AND MISSES ON THE YANKEES

In 1964, the Yankees were coming off their fifth straight pennant, having won 10 World Series crowns over the previous 18 years. The Bronx bombers boasted future Hall of Famers in slugger Mickey Mantle and pitcher Whitey Ford, as well as a bevy of past and future All-Stars in Elston Howard, Roger Maris, Bobby Murcer, Bobby Richardson, Mel Stottlemyre, Joe Pepitone, and Tom Tresh.

The team was older than most at the time, but with the 19-year-old Murcer, 23-year-old Stottlemyre, and 24-year-old Pepitone, the future still looked bright in the Bronx, where the Yankees had built a reputation for identifying and developing talent.

Then Columbia Broadcasting System arrived.

Following the 1964 season, when the overmatched Yankees pushed the vaunted St. Louis Cardinals to seven games in a crushing World Series defeat, CBS bought 80 percent of the club for $11.2million (equivalent to $107.7 m in 2022).

The team fell to sixth in the American league the following year and 10th in 1966 – the Yankees’ worst season since 1913.

Then-New York Yankees manager Yogi Berra reacts to news that the team was bought by CBS in 1964

Then-New York Yankees manager Yogi Berra reacts to news that the team was bought by CBS in 1964

After a half century of wear, Yankee Stadium was in desperate need of renovations by the time the late 1960s rolled around

After a half century of wear, Yankee Stadium was in desperate need of renovations by the time the late 1960s rolled around 

In fairness to CBS and Yankees president Mike Burke, a former CIA agent who also worked with the NBA’s Knicks, this was before free agency. So while CBS may have had financial advantages over other league owners, the company couldn’t parlay its wealth into major free-agent signings.

But that fact can’t explain the team’s diminished farm system or its reluctance to improve 50-year-old Yankee Stadium, which, much like Old Trafford now, had become dilapidated.

Soon the struggling Mets began outselling the Yankees in Queens. And by 1969, when the ‘Amazin’ Mets’ upset the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles in the World Series, the Yankees suddenly found themselves struggling to attract fans.

CBS’ tenure in the Bronx wasn’t a complete disaster. General manager Lee MacPhail drafted catcher Thurman Munson, a future MVP, and traded for reliever Sparky Lyle and third baseman Graig Nettles, all of whom would help the team rebuild in the 1970s.

Burke did strike a deal with Mayor John Lindsay to remodel Yankee Stadium using tax dollars, but neither he nor CBS would around to see the finished product.

A group of investors led by George Steinbrenner famously bought the Yankees in 1973, the stadium’s remodeling would soon be completed, and by 1976, the team was back in the World Series.

‘CBS came to the conclusion that perhaps it was not as viable for the network to own the Yankees as for some people,’ said a company spokesman at the time. ‘Fans get worked up over great men, not great corporations. We came to the realization, I think, that sports franchises really flourish better with people owning them.’

George Steinbrenner (right) announces his purchase of the Yankees from CBS, which hired then-team president Michael Burke (left) to lead the franchise in 1966

George Steinbrenner (right) announces his purchase of the Yankees from CBS, which hired then-team president Michael Burke (left) to lead the franchise in 1966

RUPERT MURDOCH AND NEWS CORP’S DODGERS DISASTER

Australia is the rare country that produces both baseball and cricket players.

Billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch was strictly among the latter, having once led his school’s cricket team to the National Junior Finals. Later, in his role as News Corp. executive chairman, he would spend billions buying up cricket media rights.

But despite his lifelong preference for baseball’s distant ancestor, Murdoch did become owner of MLB’s Los Angeles Dodgers, albeit briefly.

In 1998, Murdoch’s record-high $311m acquisition of the Dodgers ended the O’Malley family’s 53-year tenure with the team dating back to its days in Brooklyn.

The club fell under the News Corp umbrella, which made sense. With an international media conglomerate pulling the strings, local, national and international audiences suddenly had access to the Dodgers, raising the club’s profile around the world.

Los Angeles Dodgers owner Rupert Murdoch (R) is shown the stadium from the owners box by former owner Peter O'Malley before the home opener [against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Los Angeles April 7. The Dodgers beat the Diamondbacks 9-1.] Murdoch paid a reported $320million for the team owned for almost a half-century by the O'Malley family

Los Angeles Dodgers owner Rupert Murdoch (R) is shown the stadium from the owners box by former owner Peter O’Malley before the home opener [against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Los Angeles April 7. The Dodgers beat the Diamondbacks 9-1.] Murdoch paid a reported $320million for the team owned for almost a half-century by the O’Malley family

But conflicts quickly arose, much of which were predictable in retrospect. Fox Sports, one of News Corps’ many properties, had a national TV contract with Major League Baseball and local cable contracts with 22 of 30 teams at the time.

‘The pitfall is, as you get corporations with multiple divisions [managing teams], other decisions enter into baseball decisions,’ former MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn told the Los Angeles Times in 1998.

Kuhn warned that corporations would remove ‘the love of the game’ from baseball decisions.

Competing interests did clash in 2002, when celebrated Dodgers legend Sandy Koufax quit as special pitching instructor with the team following a mysterious blind item in Murdoch’s New York Post.

The Post was reporting that an unnamed baseball Hall of Famer was being blackmailed into cooperating with a biography under threat that he would otherwise be accused publicly of being a homosexual. It was around this time that Murdoch’s HarperCollins published a biography about Koufax, who would only renew his relationship with the team in 2004, after the club was sold to Frank McCourt.

‘The reason for not coming [to spring training in 2003] is definitely in the past,’ Koufax told reporters in 2004. ‘There was a reason, but it’s over and done with.’

Competing interests did clash in 2002, when celebrated Dodgers legend Sandy Koufax (center) quit as special pitching instructor with the team following a blind item in Murdoch's New York Post. The Post was reporting that an unnamed baseball Hall of Famer was being blackmailed into cooperating with a biography under threat that he would otherwise be accused publicly of being a homosexual. It was around this time that Murdoch's HarperCollins published a biography about Koufax, who would only renew his relationship with the team in 2004, after the club was sold to Frank McCourt (left)

Competing interests did clash in 2002, when celebrated Dodgers legend Sandy Koufax (center) quit as special pitching instructor with the team following a blind item in Murdoch’s New York Post. The Post was reporting that an unnamed baseball Hall of Famer was being blackmailed into cooperating with a biography under threat that he would otherwise be accused publicly of being a homosexual. It was around this time that Murdoch’s HarperCollins published a biography about Koufax, who would only renew his relationship with the team in 2004, after the club was sold to Frank McCourt (left)

Murdoch had a similar issue in 2002 with New York Mets slugger Mike Piazza, who was famously traded by the Dodgers to the dismay of fans four years earlier.

‘There is a persistent rumor around town that one Mets star who spends a lot of time with pretty models in clubs is actually gay and has started to think about declaring his sexual orientation,’ read a New York Post gossip column.

The report sparked rumors that Piazza was a homosexual, which he subsequently denied.

And as if all that weren’t bad enough, the once-strong Dodgers were suddenly mediocre with News Corp at the helm. In fact, the club failed to make the postseason from 1998 until 2004, by which time the team was owned by McCourt, who would also go on to be detested by Dodgers fans.

Nowadays the Dodgers are a perennial contender, reaching the playoffs in 10 straight years and winning a World Series in 2020 under a new, diverse ownership group.

Murdoch’s legacy with the team isn’t complicated. He lost roughly $50m a season with the team, according to reports, and his departure led to a media rights fiasco that left many in southern California unable to watch their favorite team.

‘Rupert Murdoch is the most dangerous man in the world,’ said then-Atlanta Braves owner and rival media mogul, Ted Turner.

News Corp chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch (L) and former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda speak in 2003

News Corp chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch (L) and former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda speak in 2003

DISNEY BOMBS AT THE BOX OFFICE WITH DUCKS, ANGELS

In terms of team success, the Walt Disney Company wasn’t a bad owner.

Major League Baseball’s Angels won a World Series title under Disney’s ownership in 2002, and the Mighty Ducks reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 2003.

What’s more, from Disney’s perspective, team ownership provided some clever synergy for a film studio boasting successful movie franchises, such as 1992’s ‘The Mighty Ducks’ and 1994’s ‘Angels in the Outfield.’

In fact, the NHL’s Mighty Ducks led all teams in merchandise sales in 1994 and 1995.

But both teams struggled to compete financially in a competitive LA market. Even when reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in 2003, the Mighty Ducks still lost $12m and another $28m the following season.

The team was ultimately sold after the 2003-04 season for a reported $75 million and responded by winning the Stanley Cup in 2005, albeit after distancing itself from Disney by dropping ‘Mighty’ from its name.

The Angels, meanwhile, lost a whopping $100 million for Disney from 1996 until 2002, when the club won its only World Series title. Disney sold the team to Arturo Moreno in 2003 for a reported $183m.

Portrait of American hockey executive Jack Ferreira, general manager of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, smiling and wearing Mickey Mouse ears in the 1990s

Thanks to the popularity of Disney's 1992 'Mighty Ducks' film, the NHL club led the league in merchandise sales over its first few seasons

(Left) Portrait of American hockey executive Jack Ferreira, general manager of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, smiling and wearing Mickey Mouse ears in the 1990s. Thanks to the popularity of Disney’s 1992 ‘Mighty Ducks’ film, the NHL club led the league in merchandise sales over its first few seasons 

Randy Velarde of the Anaheim Angels warms up between innings with a little help from the Walt Disney cartoon character "Goofy" against the Cleveland Indians 05 August in Anaheim, CA. Goofy was part of "Disneyland Day" at the Edison International Field of Anaheim

Randy Velarde of the Anaheim Angels warms up between innings with a little help from the Walt Disney cartoon character ‘Goofy’ against the Cleveland Indians 05 August in Anaheim, CA. Goofy was part of ‘Disneyland Day’ at the Edison International Field of Anaheim

The Anaheim Angels celebrate after defeating the San Francisco Giants 4-1 to win the World Series on Sunday, October 27, 2002 at Edison Field in Anaheim. Despite the title, the Angels still failed to turn a profit that season

The Anaheim Angels celebrate after defeating the San Francisco Giants 4-1 to win the World Series on Sunday, October 27, 2002 at Edison Field in Anaheim. Despite the title, the Angels still failed to turn a profit that season 

The New York Knicks and Rangers have been batted around Cablevision's corporate structure since the 1990s, and currently fall under the umbrella of Madison Square Garden Entertainment. MSG chairman James Dolan (pictured) is now the teams' controlling owner, albeit an unpopular one at that

The New York Knicks and Rangers have been batted around Cablevision’s corporate structure since the 1990s, and currently fall under the umbrella of Madison Square Garden Entertainment. MSG chairman James Dolan (pictured) is now the teams’ controlling owner, albeit an unpopular one at that

CORPORATE AMERICA’S OTHER FORAYS INTO SPORTS TEAM OWNERSHIP

Other companies have invested in NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball teams, although the NFL prohibits corporate ownership.

Turner’s Time Warner won a World Series with the Atlanta Braves in 1995, but had mixed results as owners of the NBA’s Hawks and NHL’s Thrashers before selling off both clubs in 2003 to help pay off its massive debts. The Braves were ultimately sold as well in 2007.

Philadelphia cable giant Comcast won titles with both the NHL’s Flyers and NBA’s 76ers, the latter of which was sold to billionaire Josh Harris in 2011.

The New York Knicks and Rangers have been batted around Cablevision’s corporate structure since the 1990s, and currently fall under the umbrella of Madison Square Garden Entertainment. MSG chairman James Dolan is now the teams’ controlling owner, albeit an unpopular one at that.

While the Rangers have seen mixed results under Dolan’s control, the Knicks have devolved into an NBA laughing stock with just one playoff appearance over the last decade. However, the Knicks do rank second on Forbes’ list of NBA team values behind the Golden State Warriors.

Regardless, it’s hard to say that either team falls under corporate management, given Dolan’s sizable 70-percent stake in MSG Entertainment. Apple, on the other hand, does not have a single shareholder that owns more than eight percent of the company, making it a poor comparison to Dolan’s situation with the Rangers and Knicks.

Perhaps the worst corporate ownership in sports was the Tribune Company’s tenure with the Chicago Cubs, which bought the team in 1981 and presided over years of futility before selling the club to the Ricketts family in 2009. The Cubs ultimately won the 2016 World Series with the Ricketts, ending a 108-year title drought.

Ted Turner's Time Warner won a World Series with the Atlanta Braves in 1995, but had had mixed results as owners of the NBA's Hawks and NHL's Thrashers before selling off both clubs in 2003 to help pay off its massive debts. The Braves were ultimately sold as well in 2007. Turner is pictured, center, in 2004

Ted Turner’s Time Warner won a World Series with the Atlanta Braves in 1995, but had had mixed results as owners of the NBA’s Hawks and NHL’s Thrashers before selling off both clubs in 2003 to help pay off its massive debts. The Braves were ultimately sold as well in 2007. Turner is pictured, center, in 2004



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