Maybe we should have sent the Glazers to bed without dinner

John Romano, Tampa Bay Times
·5 min read

TAMPA — I fear this is our fault. The anger? The protests? The postponement of Manchester United’s Premier League game Sunday due to fan rioting? All Tampa Bay’s fault.

Turns out, we did a poor job of raising the Glazers to be responsible owners.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. You can only do so much. You give your owners hundreds of millions of dollars for a stadium, sponsorships, season tickets and a practice facility, then you set them loose on the world and hope for the best.

But the truth is, we spoiled the Glazers.

We kept buying tickets and watching on TV despite their remarkably aloof ways. We may have griped and moaned during the lean years, but we cheered and partied the rest of the time. If they wanted to be reclusive and secretive, that was fine by Tampa Bay so long as they kept bringing in a Tony Dungy or a Jon Gruden or a Bruce Arians to lead us to the postseason.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way in England. Or, specifically, in Manchester.

Unlike the Buccaneers, Manchester United had a glorious history before the Glazers bought the franchise in 2005. That means instead of rescuing the team from potential relocation as the Glazers did in Tampa Bay, they were more like interlopers who saddled the franchise with debt. That was strike one.

And, unlike North America, sports fans in the United Kingdom consider themselves to be the real custodians of a team’s fortunes. Owners are more like a maître d’. They’re only around to facilitate what the customers want. The ivory tower attitude of the Glazers has never endeared them to the local fans. That was strike two.

And last month’s failed Super League concept may have made teams such as Manchester United more valuable than ever, and would have ensured their prominence on an annual basis for fans, but it also trashed the storied history of relegation and reinforced the idea that the Glazers cared more about profits than competition. That was strike three.

To be clear, Sunday’s protest was a disgrace. Breaking doors, trespassing at Old Trafford and throwing bottles at police is unacceptable under any circumstance. There are no plausible excuses.

The level of outrage, however, is instructive.

It’s difficult to understand the passion of soccer in England as compared to the United States where MLB, the NFL, the NBA, the NHL, the NCAA and NASCAR all vie for the attention of fans. Soccer clubs have long been a part of a town’s fabric, and it’s only in recent years that they’ve become financial giants that have drawn the attention of faraway investors.

That means British fans are not accustomed to owners calling the shots without engaging fans or at least pretending to listen to their suggestions and complaints.

Honestly, it’s remarkable that the Glazers have spent 15 years there without figuring this out. It speaks to a remarkable level of either cluelessness or arrogance.

So where does the story go from here?

The protestors seem to think they can force the Glazers into selling Manchester United. They want an ownership structure similar to Germany where at least 50.1 percent of the major soccer teams are owned by fans. That sounds like a fantasy. It might have been possible 30 years ago, but the value of franchises have exploded since then and new owners are not likely to invest billions without having complete control.

Manchester United’s last valuation by Forbes was more than $3.8 billion, and the Glazers are not going to sell without someone dropping well more than $4 billion in their bank accounts.

But that doesn’t mean the fans are without recourse.

The intensity of the protest should not be lost on the Glazer family. Protestors made specific demands last week involving a government-led review of ownership structures, electing independent directors to the board and consultation with season ticket holders on major decisions. The Glazers do not need to acquiesce to every demand, but showing a willingness to listen and engage would be a step in the right direction.

Maybe it’s our devotion to capitalism that makes sports fans in America more willing to accept team owners as the official voice of local franchises. Owners such Art Rooney, George Steinbrenner and Mark Cuban have become larger-than-life figures in America, arguably more popular than some of their players or coaches.

That will never be the case with the Glazers, either here or in Manchester. They are too used to playing behind the scenes to completely change their way of doing things at this point.

But the family has now been in the business of sports ownership for a quarter-century, and they should have a much better understanding that fans just want to feel like their voices are occasionally heard. Honestly, it’s not that difficult.

Tampa Bay may not be a perfect sports market, but we raised the Glazers better than that.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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