UWS: Like other fans, my
first reaction to the Sky deal was a bad one. I thought that the deal
was riddled with conflicts of interest and I just had a bad feeling
that the club had lost any independence. How would you respond to
Martin Edwards: In a way, the
club lost control as soon as we went from a private company to a
public company in 1991 . The structure of Manchester United before the
Sky approach was such that the existing directors held 18% of the
shares, members of the public held 22% and the other 60% were held by
institutions. Manchester United, whether we like it or not, was
already owned by institutions. Anybody coming in to make an offer for
Manchester United didn't even need to approach the existing directors
- they could have gone straight to the institutions. Had they accepted
the offer, then Manchester United could have changed hands without the
approval of the existing directors.
What happened with Sky is that they approached us and said that they
didn't want to make a hostile bid, that they wanted to make a friendly
bid and agree a price with us and also to give us some comfort about
how we'll manage this business going forward. We were then given
several assurances which we wanted. Sky didn't want to make changes
with the board and wanted the existing management team to run the
club. They do want Alex Ferguson to continue and they are going to
support the team in terms of purchases.
UWS: But people have been
known to renege on their promises before, not least Rupert Murdoch...
Edwards: Of course people can
make promises today and I realise that the proof of the pudding is
always in the eating. It's only in five or ten years time that you'll
be able to make that decision and ask, "Have the club lived up to
its promises?", "Is the club in a better position than
before the takeover?" Our first duty as directors of a public
company is to the shareholders and once a company the size of Sky
approaches you with an offer, you are almost honour bound to listen. A
lot of the supporters are shareholders so they'll have a chance to
vote for and against the recommendation - only the shareholders can
vote this through.
Our advisors said that when the offer was made of 240p a share, we
should recommend it to our shareholders. If you don't recommend the
offer to your shareholders and two or three years down the road the
share price is languishing, then as directors we've not acted in the
shareholders best interests and I would even suggest that we would be
open to prosecution. We felt comfortable with all aspects of this
UWS: Are United about to
become little more than a subsidiary of a multi-national corporation
for whom commercial interests take preference over all else, including
Edwards: There are two things
there. Certainly we are a subsidiary of a large organisation - that is
a fact. Secondly, you have to say that the price that Sky are paying
for Manchester United - £623m is a good one. In isolation, United
make good profits but the profits we make don't necessarily justify
the price they've paid. They are paying it because they are a media
company and they do see benefits from owning media rights connected
with Manchester United in the future. The only way they can capitalise
on those rights is if Manchester United are successful. If Manchester
United aren't successful on the pitch then the attraction is going to
be a lesser one. Sky aren't paying a premium price to run Manchester
United down - what's the benefit in that?
UWS: Sky's primary interest
is in television and there are clear conflicts that come with cross
company ownership. Would Sky want United to be so successful that they
want us to win the league by March because it certainly wouldn't make
good television for the rest of the country? It's not in the interests
of a television company to want one team to be by far and away the
best in the country is it?
Edwards: Possibly, but does
that ever happen where a team are so dominant?
UWS: It does in Scotland and
Spain. Barca and Real win the league nine times out of ten because
they're so much more powerful than the other clubs.
Edwards: It hasn't happened in
the English league though. The English league is the toughest in the
UWS: Yes, but if United are
so much more powerful than the rest it could happen and that's not in
Edwards: As Chief Executive of
Manchester United I want Manchester United to be the best. I want us
to win the league every year and succeed in Europe too. Winning the
Premiership is only part of the story. We haven't won the European Cup
since 1968 and if we're not going to start worrying about winning the
league by March, that's the least of my worries. Sky want United to
win the European Cup and more. FIFA are now talking about having the
champions of Europe playing the champions of South America, Africa and
Asia every two years in a competition. Sky will want United to win
that too because it's in their interests.
UWS: How will the sale of
Manchester United to BSkyB benefit anybody aside from those who
personally stand to profit from the deal?
Edwards: United fans will
hopefully benefit by having the best team in the future and that's the
only way they can benefit. Fans will have the same management running
the club with the same ambitions, only we'll have an £8 billion
company behind us. That will give us a better chance of being
UWS: Manchester United
turned in a bigger profit than any other football club in Europe for
the last financial year. Why did the club need to be sold?
Edwards: We had to look long
term. If Sky didn't buy United then they would have gone in for
another football club - that they told us, and it looks like other
media companies are going to take over football clubs. Now, do we want
to be left behind or do we want to be the first? If we sit back,
another company could come in, buy a big club, make them so much more
powerful than anybody else and then how would we feel, watching
somebody like Liverpool win the league by March? We've got to be
ambitious. If the Office of Fair Trading rules this bid out then fine,
it will mean that other football clubs can't be taken over and we'll
stay the most powerful club back on a level playing field.
If United hadn't been sold then I've no doubt that we would have
continued to be successful - the successful formula wouldn't just
disappear. However, we had a good offer on the table which we couldn't
ignore and I believe that we are stronger with Sky than without Sky.
We can never be complacent. Even last year I believe Arsenal overtook
us on the field. After winning at Chelsea I thought that we had won
the league and I was delighted. What happened? Arsenal won practically
every game and beat us in our own back yard for good measure. So we
had to put some resources to the team - and that's why Alec spent £28
million in the summer.
UWS: Were there any other
offers for Manchester United?
UWS: How do you personally
feel about the future of Manchester United?
Edwards: I'm no less positive
than I was before - I'd probably say that I'm more positive in a sense
that we've got a big company behind us.
UWS: What assurances have
you been given by BSkyB about the future running of Manchester United?
Edwards: The assurances that
were in the O.F.F.E.R document which was sent to all shareholders.
Basically, that Sky will let Manchester United be Manchester United
and leave the existing management in place because they're good at
their jobs; that they realise we're not just another football club;
that we have a phenomenal heritage and that we're not just another
business but that we're part of the cultural fabric of Manchester and
UWS: United fans have been
disappointed with the seeming inability to attract players such as
Batistuta and Salas to Old Trafford and they believe that it is
because of the clubs' refusals to make their wage demands. Is this the
case and how will the takeover affect future transfer dealings at the
Edwards: Salas would not have
been a problem. We knew what the terms were and if the manager wanted
Salas he could have had him - we've said that publicly. Alec went to
see Salas in South America, and came back impressed but it was just at
the time when Cole had started firing on all cylinders. Alec felt that
Salas was a risk and questioned whether he would settle in this
country with the different climate and language. Alec felt he was a
box player and that we already had a perfectly good box player in
In terms of Batistuta you're quite right. His terms were at least
three times more than the highest paid player and quite frankly we
weren't prepared to bust the wage scale for one player. We've made no
secret of our wage scale and we adopt the policy whereby we budget
sensibly in terms of the players we bring in and in terms of wages and
we're not prepared to broker the club for one player and that's quite
right. We haven't had many refusals with that policy. Batistuta was
one and Ronaldo may have been another one.
UWS: Say we broke the bank
for Ronaldo. We'd have the world's best player in the side, the share
price would rise and surely there would be associated spinoffs in
merchandise. Wouldn't the transfer pay for itself?
Edwards: Perhaps you're right
but the transfer fee element is only one part of the deal and the
wages have become a major element. If we bring in Ronaldo and pay him
three times more than everybody else, when it comes to the other
players renegotiating their contracts: the likes of Giggs, Beckham,
Schmeichel and Keane, then they're going to want a huge rise too.
They're not going to be too happy playing alongside someone who's
earning three times as much as them. With our twenty first team
players, we could end up doubling our total wage bill just for one
player and we're not prepared to do that. In the last three years the
salaries of all our players have gone up by 30% a year - it's
incredible. We'd end up losing money and we are a public company who
is answerable to our shareholders and expected to make money each
Look at Real Madrid - who won the European Cup last season. Real
Madrid are millions and millions of pounds in debt - I hear all sorts
from £25 - 50 million. They don't know how they are going to get out
of that debt, whether they are going to mortgage the ground or
We'd hate to be in that situation at United because we've always run
the club as a serious business and we've been successful along the way
too winning championships and developing the stadium. You could say
that if we'd gone a little bit further, then we might have won the
European Cup, but last year we got to the quarter final and the year
before we got to the semi. We're not far off and it's not worth
putting the club in jeopardy because the day of reckoning always
If anybody accuses me of pulling back on players then I would have to
accept that but whilst I'm the chief executive, I will always do what
is best in the long term for Manchester United and the long term
interests may not coincide with the supporters short term interests.
They might say, "win the European Cup this year at all
costs," but I have to take a longer, more pragmatic business view
on that one because I'm responsible for the club. I can't please
everybody all the time.
UWS: Some fans are concerned
that BSkyB could move United from its historical Manchester home to a
new super stadium more accessible to United's nationwide support Can
you allay those fears...
Edwards: Absolutely. There's no
way we'd be spending another £30 million on the stadium if we were
going to move. We won't move from Old Trafford.
UWS: Are the rumours true
that BSkyB are to freeze ticket prices for the duration of three
Edwards: No. We're not going to
freeze ticket prices but then we're sensible when it comes to pricing.
Our policy has settled down now because we had quite heavy increases
whilst we were rebuilding to make up for our reduced capacity but
we've no need to do that again.
If you bang the ticket prices up you don't actually achieve anything.
United supporters only make cutbacks in other areas; they don't buy a
programme, they don't buy drinks they don't go in the museum. We've
always adopted a sensible price on tickets because we want a
full-house every week, a captive audience who provide the atmosphere,
support the team and spend money in the shops too.
The average spending of United supporters was higher than any other
club last year and that wasn't because of high ticket prices, it was
because fans feel good about the team. We don't sting the fans on one
item, we don't force them to buy shirts, we offer good products at the
right price. The more money that United generate from all the
commercial activities means the more money that goes into the club
O.K, a certain amount goes in dividends but out of the £27 million
profit the year before last, only £4 million went on shareholder
dividends. Where does the rest go? It goes into the players. We've
just spent £28 million on new players. We've just announced that
we're building a new £14.3 million training ground that will give
United the best training facilities in the world and we've spent over
£40 million on the North stand, buying the land, building the stand
and fitting it out. What are we doing next? We're developing the West
and the East Stands giving us another 12,000 seats behind both goals -
none of which will be executive. We plough the money back into the
UWS: Have United lost their
independence when it comes to negotiating the next television deal.
Say, for example, ITV broke the bank to secure football's television
rights, where would that then leave a Manchester United owned by BSkyB?
Edwards: Sky are not guaranteed
to win the rights to Premiership football. Sky have said that it will
still be our shout on how we vote and our vote is only one in twenty
amongst the Premiership clubs.
UWS: You say that but isn't
that like saying the United States only have one vote on the United
Nations. Surely United hold sway?
Edwards: Not in Premier League
meetings we don't. There are times when we are totally on our own. The
last major vote the Premier League had was on ground advertising.
United and Newcastle wanted to maintain our own ground advertising and
we were outvoted by the other 18 clubs. On T.V issues you'll find that
it's the smaller clubs against the bigger clubs and we don't carry any
more sway than any other club. That's a fact. Very often when United
vote one way it almost encourages the other clubs to vote the opposite
UWS: Where does the
situation currently stand on the European Super League and also pay
per view television?
Edwards: On Pay-per-view, Sky
put forward a proposal at the summer meeting for pay-per-view of 160
games and the clubs voted it out. Since then there has been no further
talks on pay per view but I would think Sky are anxious, particularly
now they've done a deal with the Football league for six pay-per-view
games, to do an experiment this year.
As for the European Super League, Media Partners approached 16 clubs,
of which three were from the UK, us being one of them. They put
certain proposals forward which were very attractive in terms of the
number of games, the guaranteed income from those games and a place
for six years in the league.
UWS: Surely clubs should be
judged on their playing merits though and not just be guaranteed a
Edwards: Just to pick 16 teams
is unpopular both with the clubs and the fans so there has to be some
criteria involved. The criteria shouldn't just be over one season, it
should be taken from on the field performances over five, ten or
twenty years. There are other ways of cutting the cake that will be
more acceptable to the big clubs.
We're currently under the guise of U.E.FA and what these negotiations
with Media Partners have done is spark U.E.FA into action because they
don't want to run the risk of the clubs going with Media Partners. For
the first time ever, clubs can talk directly to U.E.F.A rather than
going through the Football Association. U.E.F.A are now reformulating
their plans for the European competitions next year and they are
hoping to put something forward by Christmas. They are talking about
the Champions League group stage being over ten games so things will
UWS: Why did the United
board see fit to drop the words 'football club' from the club badge?
Edwards: It's a compliment to
us because nobody thinks of Manchester United as anything but a
football club. If you look at the strength of the the badge now, with
the brighter red, it's a much bigger and bolder statement. Do
Manchester United badges need the words football club? We don't
believe they do because worldwide everybody knows what Manchester
If we were at Manchester City then that might have been important
because people will have been saying, 'what is Manchester City? Is it
the city of Manchester, is it the council?' Nobody can tell me that
anyone can ask, 'What is Manchester United' unless they are an
American living out in rural Wyoming or somewhere.
UWS: People talk about the
move being about the reinforcing of the brand so why lose those two
words which are the heart and soul of Manchester United? Without the
football club we are nothing. It's almost symbolic that in today's
commercially minded world, these two words have been removed.
Edwards: There's no doubt about
it, when you put the new badge on a commercial product it looks much
bolder and that does come into it. We made the decision because we
looked around the ground and saw something like twelve different ways
that Manchester United was portrayed. There was no uniformity and we
streamlined it right the way down. It's an evolution. Manchester
United are only a football club.
UWS: Can we be assured that
the new parent company does not interfere with team related matters at
Manchester United? At P.S.G, who are owned by the French broadcaster
Canal+, the team is in disarray, the new owner sits on the bench and
he's had a very public row with the star player. It's everyone's worst
nightmare that this will happen at Old Trafford.
Edwards: The football board at
Manchester United will be responsible for the running of Manchester
United - that's it.
UWS: What was your
motivation to remain on the Manchester United board as chief
executive, despite having sold your controlling interest?
Edwards: My controlling
interest doesn't take away my buzz for United.
UWS: So you still buzz off
going to the matches?
Edwards: Yes. It's been my life
for the past 28 years and I've not done this deal because I want to
get out. I've done it because I believe it's in the best long term
interests of the club and I believe that I had a duty to consider the
offer. I didn't approach them, they approached us and I wasn't looking
to sell the club but in the back of my mind I knew that one day
somebody bigger was going to come along. When they did approach us and
said that we could keep the existing management, it seemed like we
could have our cake and eat it.
UWS: I read John Pilger's
book on Rupert Murdoch on holiday this summer and came home
disillusioned to be British, such was the power that Murdoch has in
this country. Through his press, he can effectively elect governments
and destroy people whilst being a hypocrite at the same time. Next
thing he's taking over your team.
Edwards: There's more
anti-feeling about this deal because of Murdoch than anything else.
The only thing I would say is that Sky is a British company, it does
have other shareholders. Murdoch owns 39% of Sky's shares and whilst
he's the most powerful shareholder he doesn't have the final say
because there's seventeen people on the board at Sky and he's the only
representative of News Corporation so it is possible for him to be
UWS: But he's such a
powerful man, that's what worries me.
Edwards: He is powerful,
there's no doubt about it.
UWS: Does that not concern
Edwards: Not when we've had the
assurances we've had.
UWS: What will your exact
role be at Manchester United?
Edwards: Just the same. I'll be
Chief Executive of the group and I think I'll be chairman of the
football club board which won't alter at all. The Plc, which Sir
Roland Smith currently chairs, might be taken over by me and there
will be some representatives of Sky on that board.
UWS: You're also to take a
seat on the board of Sky - what will that entail and will it detract
from your responsibilities at Manchester United?
Edwards: No, that will be a
monthly board meeting and I'll attend so that I can represent
Manchester United on the Sky board. I certainly won't be getting
involved in new technology and all the rest of it, I'm just reporting
on Manchester United's business.
UWS: Do you think there will
be any improvements at the club, such as with the way they deal with
the media. I appreciate that United are inundated with requests from
journalists but they should have a properly run press office to deal
with the media and I'll give you an example why: Three months ago,
Mellor's Task Force criticised United for not including any disabled
places in the new North Stand whilst forgetting the fact that at the
time of building the North Stand, United had doubled the size of their
disabled enclosure. United's disabled supporters are perfectly happy
with their arrangements and yet the club refused to defend their
position and were subsequently criticised. Why?
Edwards: The chairman of the
disabled supporters club did respond but you are probably right when
you say we could improve the public relations side of things because
Sky are a much more RR led company and would want to respond more.
Then again, too much RR can damage a company. Look at the Football
Association, they are so P.R led that you wonder who's running the F.A.
because you rarely hear a quote from Graham Kelly.
UWS: Can you see a time when
the club take on recommendations by the Independent Supporters
Edwards: The difficulty we have
with IMUSA is that they are a fairly new body and they have alienated
existing members of this club. I'm not just including myself there
because I don't think that the manager is over the moon with some of
their antics and certainly some of the senior managers here are not
happy with the way they go on. IMUSA have been very critical of the
club and they have alienated a lot of our supporters clubs who say,
'what right have they got to spout off about the club, we've been in
existence for over forty years.' Why should IMUSA suddenly become the
spokespersons for the fans of this club? If they'd had their way, Alex
Ferguson would have gone in 1995 when Hughes, Ince and Kanchelskis
UWS: I think as an
organisation they didn't, and as an organisation IMUSA have learnt how
to deal with the press much better. Secondly, IMUSA don't, and have
never claimed to represent all United fans and titles like, 'Fans'
leaders and 'fans' spokesman' are given by the media. They only speak
for themselves and their members.
Edwards: We have to be careful
because if we suddenly open a dialogue with IMUSA and give them
preference over all our other supporters clubs we will be criticised.
UWS: Yes, but unlike
United's own supporters club IMUSA are both Independent and
Edwards: Another thing is that
IMUSA won't let issues such as standing drop. Standing is out of our
hands, the government won't allow it, that's the law, and yet members
of IMUSA in the East Lower continue to flout that by standing up. Do I
sit down with people who are openly breaking the law? I don't think I
should. I'll tell you what, they really piss off the other people in
that stand because the majority of people in the East Stand want to
UWS: That said, I was at the
Football Task Force meeting when it came to Manchester and there was a
real groundswell of opinion for terracing and you came away from that
thinking that the Task Force have to listen to the public and do
something about it. Would the Poll Tax ever have been abolished if it
wasn't for public opinion?
Edwards: Mellor is dead against
standing and the government will not change the law. I came out and
supported standing and I got the biggest rocket from other Premier
League chairmen, the Police, the council and other people at United.
UWS: But people only want
the atmosphere to improve inside the ground and they see standing as a
means to achieving that.
Edwards: People have got to get
away from thinking that they will win the argument on standing because
UWS: Do you feel that
Manchester United are any closer now to winning the European Cup than
they were five years ago?
Edwards: The experience of
playing in Europe will help players and I thought we were very unlucky
against Dortmund. Last season we had bad injuries and I think we are
getting closer. I'm disappointed at the two draws against Barca and
Munich because we'd led in both games. Whether we can qualify is
another matter but I'd like to think so.
UWS: People will always have
opinions on how tickets should be distributed but something that I've
noticed is a marked decline in the number of youngsters attending
games? Does this not concern you?
Edwards: When we expand the
stadium we have to think very carefully about how we allocate those
seats. I don't think we should just sell them all as season tickets.
We've got an opportunity where we can rethink our strategy.
UWS: The youngsters are the
reds of the future, we can't lose them and other clubs have introduced
schemes to cultivate their young support. If you United don't get the
kids in then they can go to the ice hockey, the basketball and, God
forbid, even Maine Road.
Edwards: It is difficult for
kids, both in terms of price and the logistics of getting tickets and
we should look at measures of getting them inside Old Trafford.
UWS: What message have you
got for United fans who are concerned about the future of the club?
Edwards: We had to consider the
offer, we got the assurances we wanted and we didn't want it to be
another club that was taken over because it would make it tougher for
Manchester United. We've come a long way since going public in 1991
and we've got a long way to go. Europe still has to be conquered and
it shouldn't stop there because there will be more world-wide
competitions in the future. With Sky, we'll be in better position to
UWS: Finally, can you name
United s left back?
Edwards: First choice; Denis
Irwin, second Phil Neville, third John Curtis. I'm glad Mark Booth
answered that question honestly - I would have been a bit worried if
he'd known all about the team.