United drops Asia IPO

Manchester United ditched its plans for an Asia listing.

Patrice Evra

HONG KONG - Manchester United on Wednesday has ditched its plans for an Asian listing and is preparing to list in the U.S, according to sources with knowledge of the deal.

After first eyeing a Hong Kong IPO, it had planned to float shares in Singapore in the second half of last year.

As a result of its change of listing location, Manchester United is expected to make changes to its bookrunning syndicate. Credit Suisse, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley were originally mandated as bookrunners for the Singapore listing, but sources said that this line-up might change.

Jefferies has also joined the deal, the sources said.

The banks on the deal and a Manchester United spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

One of the sources said Manchester United had always planned to position itself as a global media business rather than a sports franchise, suggesting that a US listing would make more sense.

The club's American owners, the Glazer family, are well known in the US as owners of American football team the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as well as First Allied Corp, which owns and leases shopping centers. Conversely, they are extremely unpopular in the UK, which could have made a London listing difficult.

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American investors are also familiar with the dual-class share structure that was under discussion for Manchester United's Singapore listing, having seen it used by household names such as Google and Facebook.

The Glazers are understood to have wanted to sell Class B shares with limited or no voting rights to maintain a level of control of 95 - 100 percent.

That structure was said to be one reason why they opted for Singapore in the first place, as, unlike Hong Kong, the exchange was happy to agree to the format, and for the club's Class A shares to be quoted but not traded.

However, the issuer is understood to have become frustrated with long delays in approval from the SGX, even after it had indicated it would have no problems with a dual-class share issue.

An American listing might earn the company a better valuation as a media business, since it has contracts for broadcasting rights as well as its own television channel.

However, it is unlikely to achieve the original goal of putting shares in the hands of a wide base of United fans. A source said the original aim of the Singapore listing was to create "a pan-regional platform for retail investors".

Singapore had seemed the ideal location, as it provided a way to reach retail investors in one of its biggest fan bases, Indonesia. When the Singapore listing was still under consideration, the importance of Asia to the company, with much of its growth coming from Asian merchandise sales, had been heavily emphasized during marketing to investors.

The club claims to have 659 million supporters worldwide, of which 325 million are in Asia Pacific and 55 million in Indonesia. It counts just 34 million fans in North America, where soccer has yet to build a significant supporter base.