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 that?
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
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 deal.
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 football?
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
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 successful.
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 the nation.
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 Cole.
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
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
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 year.
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 whatever.
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 comes.
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 years?
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 club.
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 way.
UWS: Where does the situation currently stand on the European Super League and also pay per view
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 place?
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 evolve.
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 United is.
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
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 outvoted.
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 you?
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 were sold.
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 democratic.
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 sit down.
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 they won't.
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 compete.
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.