A Qatari royal and one of the UK’s richest people submitted bids for Manchester United, one of the world’s most successful soccer clubs, currently owned by the US Glazer family.
The exact value of the bid submitted by Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani, the chairman of the Qatar Islamic Bank (QIB) is confidential, but Bloomberg reported that the Glazer family is valuing the club at $5 billion and the Qatari bid could be as high as $6 billion.
A deal of this size would be the biggest takeover of a professional sports team ever, beating the record $4.65 billion purchase of the Denver Broncos, an American football team, by the billionaire heir of the Walmart company last year.
In a statement confirming the bid, the sheik said the funds would come from the Nine Two Foundation, an entity of which there is little public record. But his wealth is tied to the QIB, which is, in turn, 50% owned by the Qatari Investment Authority, the investment branch of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund. The QIB chairman is the son of Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the powerful former emir of Qatar who was also a former head of the country’s sovereign wealth fund. Sheik Jassim’s brother, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, is the current emir of Qatar.
A competing bid was submitted by Greater Manchester-born billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, CEO of Ineos Chemicals Group, who’s reportedly been talking to JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs to finance the deal.
A Champions League quagmire
There is a reason that Jassim alone is making the bid instead of the Qatar Investment Authority: Qatar already owns a major European soccer club, Paris Saint-Germain (PSG).
After hosting the World Cup, the emir of Qatar reportedly ordered the country’s foreign investment authority to find a footing in the Premier League, the world’s most popular soccer association.
However, according to the Union of European Football Association’s (UEFA) bylaws, two clubs with the same owner are barred from competition. Since Manchester United and PSG are likely to face off in the Champions League–the intra-European soccer tournament for the continent’s top teams–Jassim has endeavored to prove that there is no overlap between him and the Qatar Investment fund.
If the bid is accepted, Jassim will have to convince European regulators that his funds are not from the state of Qatar. Considering his complex web of connection to the state’s funds–as well as the fact that his brother is the country’s head of state–this could be a difficult task.
Most valuable global soccer franchises
Gulf states eye the NBA
Soccer is not the only sport attracting interest from Gulf states, with the National Basketball Association (NBA) recently receiving attention from the Qatari Investment Authority, amongst other investors. The NBA’s Board of Governors changed their team ownership laws last year to allow sovereign wealth funds to buy up 20% of teams.
In the weeks since the change became official, Bloomberg reported that investors at the QIA and Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Company have expressed interest in NBA ownership, including possibly purchasing a partial stake in the New York Knicks, one of the league’s most iconic franchises.
James Dolan—the team’s controversial owner—is open to selling a minority stake, according to MSG President David Hopkinson. Additionally, the Knicks’ largest minority owner is Silver Lake Management, which has close financial ties to the Mubadala fund, including co-ownership of the Manchester City club in the Premier League.
This would not be the first instance of foreign investment in the NBA. Indian entrepreneur Vivek Ranadive became the first person born outside North America to own a majority stake in an NBA team when he bought the Sacramento Kings in 2013.
More recently, Taiwanese-Canadian billionaire and Alibaba co-founder Joe Tsai made waves when he purchased the Brooklyn Nets in 2019 for $2.35 billion. Tsai has invested heavily in the Nets, but he has also faced controversy due to his ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), especially after he referred to the 2019 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong as a “separatist movement.”
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Correction (Feb 21, 2023): This article initially misstated the speaker on the MSG Sports earnings call who indicated that James Dolan was open to selling a minority stake in the New York Knicks. It was MSG Sports president David Hopkinson who said Dolan was open to selling a stake in the team, not Dolan himself.