Inside Move: Kicking the tires

Media, sports moguls mull Manchester grab

An Irish horseracing tycoon, a Dutch TV mogul, a Russian billionaire and an American football team owner walk onto a field…

What sounds like the setup to a joke is, in fact, just part of the intrigue surrounding a possible takeover of U.K.’s top soccer club.

The recent sale of satcaster BSkyB’s 9.9% stake in the Manchester United soccer team and the stockpiling of shares by other investors is fueling frenzied speculation in the City that a takeover bid is in the offing.

Oct. 7 saw the investment vehicle of Irish horseracing tycoons JP McManus and John Magnier buy up BSkyB’s shares in the club, boosting their stake to 23.15%. By law, McManus and Magnier would be obliged to launch a takeover bid if their holdings top 30%.

But analysts suggest the canny Irishmen are merely stockpiling to sell big when someone else tries a takeover.

One City insider tells Variety that Malcolm Glazer, owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, looks to be the likeliest candidate. Last week he increased his share of the club to 5.9%.

Still another contender is John de Mol, Endemol topper and creator of the TV’s “Big Brother.” De Mol boosted his shares from 3.5% to 4.1% on Oct. 8.

And rumors persist of another mystery Russian in the “Roman Abramovitch mold” appearing out of the blue to seize control. Billionaire Abramovitch bought the Chelsea football franchise this summer.

Ordinarily, soccer clubs make poor investment vehicles; shares in the Queens Park Rangers and Leeds United have nosedived with the implosion of the transfer market.

But Manchester United remains a stellar global brand, clear of debt and posting regular annual profits while remain consistently strong on the field.

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