“Clubs or Franchises: The US Takeover of English Football Clubs”

The Business of Sport – Seminar Series

Room G01 – Clore Management Centre, Birkbeck College, Torrington Square, London WC1 7HX

Wednesday 25th April 2007 at 6pm
(For directions click here)

“Clubs or Franchises: The US Takeover of English Football Clubs”

Given by: David Conn, Writer and Guardian Columnist

First the Glazers bought Manchester United in a bitterly opposed takeover, then Randy Lerner took over Aston Villa to the acclaim of many fans tired of the long tenure of Doug Ellis. When Tom Hicks and George Gillett bought Liverpool for £174.1m, they were at pains to say they respected the heritage of the club, and most fans have broadly welcomed them. Now Stan Kroenke has bought 11% of Arsenal and US investors are said to be looking at Manchester City, Newcastle United and other top clubs. After Abramovich’s purchase of Chelsea in 2003, further takeovers were expected by other oligarchs from the East – instead they have turned out to be by billionaires from the US rich list.

Why are the clubs being sold on the threshold of the richest ever time for English football? What is motivating the new US – and Icelandic – owners to buy the clubs? Why are the local long term owners, the Edwards family, Ellis, David Moores, Terry Brown, selling out? How much are they being paid for doing so? What does it mean for English football, for the future of the game, the soul of the clubs and the experiences of the fans? Is it good or bad? Does it really matter?

David Conn, author of The Football Business and The Beautiful Game? has written about all the club takeovers in his Wednesday column in The Guardian newspaper, and in this lecture he talks about the deals, the money, the motivations and the implications of the takeovers, mostly US, of the clubs at the top level of English football. In doing so, he also draws on the culture and history of the game to examine how and why it has reached this point.

David Conn

David wrote the best-selling The Football Business: Fair Game in the 90s? in 1997, highlighting the way the sudden influx of wealth into English football was being swallowed up mostly by the big clubs and widely mismanaged, and how fans’ loyalty was being exploited with steepling price rises.

In particular he analysed how the breakaway by the First Division clubs in 1992 to form the Premier League had polarised income to favour of the biggest clubs, and how chairmen and shareholders were cashing in and making fortunes on the Stock Market against the rules and traditions of the governing body, the Football Association.

While football was booming and ‘coming home’, it was in danger of alienating its own grass roots, and football’s special place in the cultural life of the country.

David’s second book (2004), The Beautiful Game? Searching for the Soul of Football (Yellow Jersey Press, £7.99) examined the state of football in a changed climate, in which most people generally recognised that for all the game’s excitement and glamour, it has been in crisis in many ways. Many of the chickens came home to roost; huge TV deals earned fortunes for the Premier League, but the riches were concentrated in few hands and many clubs over-borrowed, over-spent and collapsed trying to keep up with Manchester United and, after Abramovich’s shock arrival, Chelsea.

In football’s boom-time, since 1992, 39 of the Football League’s clubs, more than half its 72 members, have been insolvent. People flocked back to the newly attractive game, but ticket prices steepled too, and the poor and the young have been priced out. The book included chapters on some of the clubs which collapsed into administration; Bradford City, Notts County, York, Bury and Wimbledon, tracing the gory details of these failures, but also the fight-back, often by supporters trusts, to keep clubs alive.

The game is more high profile than ever, with US investors seeing the profits to be made from further worldwide expansion of TV and media rights. Yet there remains division and turmoil at the heart of its running, seen in the in-fighting and weakness at the Football Association, the game’s governing body. In this lecture David, drawing on his weekly column on the politics, social context and business of football in The Guardian newspaper, reviews events in English football, asking how it came to this, and looking ahead to the future of the game.


  • Conn, D. (2004). The Beautiful Game? Searching for the Soul of Football Yellow Jersey Press
  • Conn, D. (1997). The Football Business: Fair Game in the ’90s?. Edinburgh: Mainstream.
  • Conn, D. (1999). `The New Commercialism’, in: Hamil, S. et al. A Game of Two Halves: the business of football. Edinburgh: Mainstream, pp. 40-55.
  • David Conn’s weekly column in The Guardian newspaper, including articles on the takeovers of Manchester United, West Ham, Aston Villa and Liverpool, can be viewed at

For further details contact:

Sean Hamil

Department of Management
Birkbeck College
Malet Street

Tel: 020-7631 6763 or Email:

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