British Fans Wary of U.S. Soccer Club Owner

American Malcolm Glazer acquires a majority interest in the famed British soccer club Manchester United. The news leaves many British fans displeased. And young NBA star LeBron James drops his agent. Chicago Sun-Times sports columnist Ron Rapoport offers details.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Time now for sports.

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WERTHEIMER: We doubt they are going to start calling it a soccer team instead of a football club, but Manchester United, one of the world's most successful and popular purveyors of the sport, is now owned by an American. This week, Malcolm Glazer acquired more than 70 percent of the British team, and he plans to buy all the remaining shares, as well. So far, Mr. Glazer, who already owns a different football team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has ponied up $1 1/2 billion. That's chump change for WEEKEND EDITION sports commentator Ron Rapoport, who joins us from our Chicago bureau.

Hi, Ron.

RON RAPOPORT reporting:

Hi, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Manchester fans own somewhere between 10 and 15 percent of the club. They apparently were not pleased with this week's announcement.

RAPOPORT: Well, they're not going down easily, the fans. They're threatening protest at the London Stock Exchange, at the offices of JP Morgan. Linda, I'll tell you, the way the team has played the last few years, they might want to picket the players' houses.

WERTHEIMER: They also said that they were worried Mr. Glazer would take the heart and soul of the team.

RAPOPORT: Well...

WERTHEIMER: He has no knowledge of the sport; he would use all his profits to pay back the debt he incurs to buy it; that he'll force up ticket prices.

RAPOPORT: That's the big concern, isn't it? I mean, he's not going to move the team to Tampa. There's no question about that. But I think the real concern is that he's going to put his stamp on the team financially, if not competitively. That's what bothers people.

Manchester United has a following all over the world, the way only a soccer team can. And there's a lot of money to be made in team clothing, memorabilia and also it can make a lot of money selling the rights to players the way David Beckham was sent to Real Madrid a few years ago. So maybe there is this concern that Glazer won't do what's right for the team as much for his own bottom line.

WERTHEIMER: Another sports business story that we note this week is that NBA star LeBron James has dropped his agent, Aaron Goodwin, the man who negotiated his huge endorsement deals, and he is expected to hire his former Akron high school teammate Maverick Carter to take over much of his management. Ron, Goodwin is the guy who got $90 million from Nike before LeBron James ever played a professional game.

RAPOPORT: Plus a $13 million contract to play basketball, Linda; let's not forget that. It is amazing to think that you would turn your back on agents who did that for you. On the other hand, Maverick Carter is a former player who studied sports management. He's worked for Nike, which is the $80 billion gorilla of sports commercials and endorsements and so on. And most important, he's a close friend of James. Everything I've read about him says don't underestimate him, that he's a bright young guy with a good future as an agent ahead of him.

But I'll tell you what this does suggest, is that it might be a warning to the Cavaliers that James' patience may be growing short. He has yet to appear in the playoffs and, of course, that's where--you know, when everybody's watching the game and where reputations are really made. James needs to be on a winner if he's going to move up to the next level, both as a player and as a business entity in the league. So I'd be surprised if the first conversations Carter has with the team don't say--aren't something along the lines of `What are you going to do to make this team better?' with the implied threat that James may want to move elsewhere when his contract is up.

WERTHEIMER: OK, Ron. Thanks very much.

RAPOPORT: Thank you, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: WEEKEND EDITION sports commentator Ron Rapoport is also a sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times.

And you're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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