What Makes Americans Buy British Soccer Clubs?

Soccer is a national obsession in England that's spilling over into America. NPR's Scott Simon talks to sports business writer John Ourand about why Americans are buying up the U.K.'s top teams.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

So if you're a fan of the beautiful game - that's soccer, for those of you who aren't - you've no doubt heard that this week Manchester United sacked - that's fired, not putting a man in a sack, though it's close - David Moyes, its manager. Man U had fallen badly behind its Premier League rivals, most notably Liverpool, which is in a position to win its first league championship in almost 25 years.

The two teams may be headed in different directions right now, but these two storied British clubs are owned by a couple of Americans. And more Americans are buying British footie clubs. Did they run out of Queen Elizabeth coffee mugs? We're joined in our studios now by John Ourand from the Sports Business Journal. Thanks so much for being with us.

JOHN OURAND: Hey, thanks for having me.

SIMON: Let's start with this news out of Manchester. This wasn't a pretty separation, was it?

OURAND: No, Manchester's used to vying for the title and when they fall to where they are now, which is, you know, still the top 10 but certainly not near the top, it's - you know, the fans get restless and the owners get restless, and they want to bring somebody in to try to make the team play better.

SIMON: Man U is owned by an American, Malcolm Glazer, who also owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. How popular is he right now?

OURAND: In Manchester?

SIMON: Yeah, yeah - to Tampa Bay, yes.

(LAUGHTER)

OURAND: Well, I would say that the Yanks that are over there right now are not the most popular, especially not the Yankee that owns Liverpool 'cause they're about to win the title and that's what Manchester wants.

SIMON: This is owned by John Henry, the same group that has had such success over the past decade with the Boston Red Sox.

OURAND: Exactly, and Liverpool is set to do it and their fans couldn't be happier. They're still a little bit wary, I think, about having an American own such a storied English club, but they're plenty happy with how the season's progressing so far.

SIMON: Well, John, look, we did a count. Six teams in England's 20-team league are owned by Americans. Do any of the Americans who bought British football clubs think that they have learned something here that can translate there?

OURAND: That's the primary reason that the American owners want to get over there. They feel that the United States' market is saturated, that team values are high, and so it's not a very good...

SIMON: Hot dogs cost $10, yeah.

OURAND: Hot dogs don't cost $10 in England right now, so they view the English sports scene as much less sophisticated, in a sports business sense. You take a look at Arsenal, and you take a look at Manchester United and Liverpool, and these are clubs that have huge international brands. So if you're thinking about growth potential, there's so much more growth potential over in England with those type of clubs than any of the football clubs, for example, that are here. American football, I mean, of course.

SIMON: Yes, of course. So have the American owners, by bringing in financial ideas, made themselves popular with British fans?

OURAND: Oh, absolutely not.

(LAUGHTER)

OURAND: I think as popular as paying for personal seat licenses, here in the states.

SIMON: Oh, yeah.

OURAND: However, you take a look at Arsenal, they used to play in a place called Highbury, which was this old-stadium tucked away in a neighborhood in North London; and it had so much character and charm, almost exactly like Wrigley Field. Well, they got rid of that, and they built this new stadium that has all of the amenities. And I'm not certain that the Arsenal fans love that, but they certainly sell it out.

SIMON: Yeah, when all is said and done, it's their lads on the field so they show up for it.

OURAND: Exactly, yeah.

SIMON: Can I sing something for you? It is my favorite sports song of all time. (Singing) Oh the football is the pleasant game played in the sun, played in the rain. And the team that makes me excited? Manchester United - you ever heard it before?

OURAND: I love it.

(LAUGHTER)

OURAND: If I can answer that, actually, seriously...

SIMON: Yes, OK.

OURAND: ...I think that one of the reasons that American owners love English football are songs like that.

SIMON: Oh, God. I mean, this sounds like almost the oldest tragic love song - is, the Americans go there 'cause they think they've got new ideas that'll make money, but they also want a reinvigoration of the love of sports.

OURAND: Absolutely, and I think when you see this - I was going to say antipathy, but it's anger toward some of these American owners - I think that's the passion. I mean, if you can tap into that passion and that passion still exists, it's great.

SIMON: John Ourand, always a pleasure; staff writer at the Sports Business Journal, joins us in our studios. Thanks so much.

OURAND: Thank you.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.