A leading football finance expert has said that Manchester United are overvalued and believes that their forthcoming IPO will prove the prelude to the sale of the club.
United's owners, the Glazer family, will make 10% of shares available on the New York Stock Exchange next Friday and should raise at least $300 million – which would make the club's total value over $3 billion.
"If you look at the current exchange rate, you get about £2 billion. They were talking about £1.8 billion a year ago, which is way too high," said David Bick, chairman of Square1 consulting. "I just don't get the valuation. I don't get why major banks [as underwriters] have put their name behind it."
United plan to use some of the proceeds to repay around £75 million of their debts, which currently stand at £437 million. But Bick said: "It is barely 20% of the debt. It is the bare minimum. I think that this float is just the prelude to them getting a market price and selling the club."
Selling a limited amount of shares can produce a higher value, he explained. "It is easier to float 10% of the shares for an inflated price than half a company," he said.
With global financial markets experiencing difficult times and Britain in a double-dip recession, Bick questioned the motives and the timing of the Glazers.
"The thing that doesn't make sense is doing it in these market conditions," he said. "You would be more inclined to wait for a year or two. The timing strikes me as odd particularly in market terms. They [the Glazers] may need the money."
While 10% of shares in the club are for sale, the Glazers will retain 98.7% of voting rights, because shares are split between Class A shares, which carry one vote per share and Class B shares, which have 10 votes per share.
It is a reason why the club is being floated in the United States, rather than the United Kingdom, and Bick said it would deter potential investors.
"You would never get it in London and I am kind of surprised they would have it in the US with A Shares and B shares," he added. "Most London institutions would not touch that with a bargepole. I can't remember the last time there was some kind of double voting structure on the London market."