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Big football, or why the stock market doesn't always work out for clubs

Football ceased to be just a game about kicking a ball around a long time ago. In fact, much like the franchises in US sports, it wouldn't be unfair to refer to the biggest clubs as a business first.

Football ceased to be just a game about kicking a ball around a long time ago. In fact, much like the franchises in US sports, it wouldn't be unfair to refer to the biggest clubs as a business first. Profits are king. In fact, since 1983, almost 70 English and Welsh teams have fallen to the biggest business calamity of them all - bankruptcy and administration, some never to return.

Of course, deciding that something is a business over a park club means that all sorts of variables are added to the basic results on the pitch, including concepts like stocks and shares. It's still quite a rare thing to do, but floating a team on the stock market is far from a harebrained idea, with Manchester United standing as the archetype of this kind of financially experimental football team.

Share prices

United, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, has a market cap of US$2.8bn. This figure refers to the number of shares available multiplied by the price of an individual share. Arsenal also had a market cap of US$2.8bn. However, this has much to do with the fact that each share was worth around £30,000. The Gunners were actually delisted from the NEX Exchange back in 2018.

In no particular order, the catalogue of teams listed on one stock market or another includes Rangers, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus, and Celtic. While, on the surface, taking part in a floatation of a club can increase the amount of capital a team has to play with, there are consequences. Believe it or not, results, transfers, and competition involvement can influence share prices, which can produce undesirable outcomes.

For example, a master's thesis on the topic from the University of Tilberg discovered that transfers produce higher stock values on the first, second, and ninth days afterwards - but there is a caveat. Investors tend to prefer clubs to purchase older, experienced players over younger prospects, due to the fact that the latter are untested on the field. Oddly enough, loaning players in and out has no effect on share prices.

A gloomy outlook

While the battle between supporters and the football-as-a-business model is unlikely to ever end, investing in clubs can still serve a purpose for fans. For one, having a long-term stake in a club or related property is another way to show support in the side's leadership. However, increasingly, people are putting money into football teams as a means to assist their own financial goals, especially savings.

In the UK, the ISA is a popular form of savings account but, still, almost 7% of Britons don't have anything saved at all. One of the most common types of ISA is the cash ISA, which allows you to earn interest on your savings within an ISA wrapper. Beyond that, stocks and share ISAs allow you to take this further by investing your savings into a stock of your choice, and if it becomes profitable, it will protect this profit from capital gains. It is even possible to combine saving money with football, though, via a mobile phone app that allows you to buy shares in Manchester United (for instance) and hold it as a part of your stocks and shares ISA. By holding these shares in your ISA, not only would you be showing support to your club, but any profit or hypothetical dividends would become tax-efficient. Naturally, this relies upon the fact that the share price has to move in a favourable direction, or for the company to pay out dividends.

Why? There are quite a few reasons. For one, United keeps re-financing their debt as the overall debt continues to increase. Add in the fact that players keep getting more expensive and season tickets are now so costly that it's difficult to increase prices and the club can only lust after profitability. It's a gloomy outlook for one of the world's biggest teams, especially given their recent difficulties on the pitch.

All in all, it's debatable whether Manchester United's interaction with the stock market has panned out as intended. To put that quandary into numbers, United's stock price has been in a trough since the middle of October 2021. Previously, it had peaked at US$26.60 in August 2018 but currently stands at US$14.50. Unfortunately, getting above $US20.00 might be a pipedream for United's accountants.

Whatever its share price, though, the idea of sport as a business - Big Football - is far more of a commonplace thing than many supports might suspect. On such an unpredictable landscape, though, the balance between the corporate side of things and what goes on on the pitch is a difficult one to maintain.

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