“Manchester United: the Commercial Development of a Global Football Brand”

The Business of Sport – Seminar Series

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

Wednesday 10th October at 6pm
(For directions click here)

“Manchester United: the Commercial Development of a Global Football Brand”

Given by: Sean Hamil, Birkbeck Sports Business Centre.


Manchester United is one the greatest club names in world football. Its reputation derives firstly from its formidable record of achievement on the field of play from the early 1960s onwards. In 1968 it became the first English club to win the European Cup; and in the more recent era has won the English Premier League nine out of fifteen times since the competition’s inception in 1992/1993, also winning the European Champions League in 1999. Secondly, Manchester United enjoys an iconic status with its supporters. The origins of this status lie in the way in which it’s most celebrated manager, Sir Matt Busby, rebuilt his team after a tragic air crash at Munich Airport in 1958 that left eight players dead and many others seriously injured. Busby’s re-fashioned team then become associated with the free spirit which characterised the liberal social changes in Western Europe and North America of the 1960s, notably embodied in the playing style of the team’s flamboyant and mercurial forward George Best; a spirit which was reflected in the team’s, the so-called Red Devils, buccaneering attacking style of play which saw Best supported by other equally extraordinary, attacking players such as Bobby Charlton and Denis Law. The name of Manchester United continues to be associated with the romance of the team of that period, and this has become a critical factor in the make-up in the modern Manchester United brand. Many would argue that this is in fact one of the key reasons why it remains England ‘s best supported team with average attendances in the 2006/2007 in excess of 75,000 for every league game. Thirdly, since it became the first English football club to float on the London Stock Exchange in 1991, Manchester United has consistently been Europe’s most innovative club in terms of the development of its commercial strategy, and continues to be its most profitable.

The BSkyB pay-tv broadcasting company unsuccessfully tried to take over the company in 1999. In 2005 it was the club’s successful commercial attributes which led the Glazer family, owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFL American football franchise to buy Manchester United and de-list it from the stock exchange. This case examines how this successful commercial strategy was developed by the board of Manchester United Plc from the mid-1990s onwards, and examines its prospects for continued success given that under the ownership of the Glazers, Manchester United has moved from being debt-free to carrying very significant borrowings on its balance sheet which demand very high interest servicing payments each financial year; and has adopted an aggressively commercial approach to its relationship with the club’s supporters which critics argue may erode the traditional strength of the brand in the medium term and ultimately threaten revenues in the long term.


Sean Hamil graduated with a BA in Economics and Politics from Trinity College , Dublin and an MSc in Industrial Relations and Personnel Management from the London School of Economics. He then worked as a business analyst with the Henley Centre for Forecasting and then as a researcher for New Consumer, an educational charity focusing on corporate social and environmental responsibility. He is a lecturer in the Management Department in Birkbeck College, and a Director of the Birkbeck Sports Business Centre.

Since joining academic life his main research interests have been corporate community and charitable involvement, and the governance and regulation of professional football. With regard to the latter, he is an elected director of Supporters Direct, the not-for-profit organisation established to assist football supporters to set up supporters’ trusts at their football clubs. Supporters’ trusts are democratically accountable organisations structured as not-for-profit industrial & provident societies (co-operatives) that aim to secure the position of football clubs in their historic role as key community assets. There are now over 100 supporters’ trusts in existence in the UK, with nearly 30 in Scotland alone. Sean established Supporters Direct’s activities in Scotland. He has co-edited three books on regulation and governance in the football industry.


This presentation is derived from the following book chapter:

  • Hamil, S. (2008). Manchester United: the Commercial Development of a Global Football Brand , in: Chadwick, S. & Arthur, D. (Eds.), `International Cases in the Business of Sport`, Butterworth-Heinemann/Elsevier. Chapter 9.

Further details can be found at:

Other relevant reading:

  • Bose, M. (2007). Manchester United: And the Business of Soccer . Aurum Press Ltd.
  • Deloitte (2001 – 2007), Annual Reviews of Football Finance. Deloitte.
  • Deloitte (February 2007). Football Money League: the reign in Spain. Deloitte.
  • Deloitte (February 2006) Football Money League: the changing of the guard. Deloitte.
  • Manchester United Plc (2001-2005). Annual Reports. Manchester United Plc.


For further details on this seminar series contact:

Sean Hamil

Department of Management
Birkbeck College
Malet Street

Email: or Tel: 020-7631 6763

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