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Oct 23, 2012

Man U to open U.S. office

LONDON -- Manchester United is hoping to break into the U.S. market to cash in on its global appeal.

The record 19-time English champions will open an office on the East Coast to maximize commercial opportunities in the United States, where the club is now listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

The exact location is yet to be determined but it would replicate the operation set up by the club's American owners in London that has turned United into one of football's biggest moneymakers.

"The U.S. we view as a really good opportunity," vice chairman Ed Woodward said Tuesday in the boardroom of the club's London offices.

"The U.S. media rights for soccer have rocketed. The 2010 World Cup, they were the No. 1 payer for broadcasting rights. It's rocketed again for 2014 in Brazil and we are expecting the Premier League to have a good outcome there for the (TV) rights given the way it's taken off from being a niche sport."

Woodward said the U.S. office would be the first time a sports team has opened such an overseas commercial office.

"There is real value there we believe from media deals, merchandising and sponsorship deals," he said.

Commercial revenue grew 13.7 percent to a record 117.6 million pounds ($188.4 million) in 2011-12 thanks to a new uniform sponsor and dozens of regional sponsorship deals now in place with companies, mainly in Asia and the Middle East. The club will be touring India and Australia next summer.

Three sponsorship deals have been reached with Japanese firms alone, the latest a soft drink company, since the signing of midfielder Shinji Kagawa in the offseason.

"It's going gangbusters in Japan," Woodward said. "He was bought for his football skills. The tail never wags the dog but obviously the commercial team here was rubbing their hands at the opportunity that a Japanese player is probably going to do more for us than a Belgian player."

The deals helped the club raise the revenue to cut the debt resulting from the takeover by the Glazer family in 2005. The gross debt is now 360 million pounds ($576 million), Woodward said.

The Glazer family sold 8.3 million shares on the New York Stock Exchange in August with the aim of raising around $110 million.

But Woodward said the listing -- after a failed attempt to float on the stock exchange in Asia -- is not a precursor to the club being sold outright by the Glazers, even though there have been recent approaches.

"It's a very popular business that people have interest in -- the answer is 'Not for sale,'" Woodward said.

"They are not willing sellers at all," he added. "They won't even engage. They are long term investors ... The excitement they have in the club is undiminished and I don't see them selling completely for many, many years."

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