The Qatari group led by Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad J.J. Al Thani has withdrawn its bid to buy Manchester United, people familiar said, paving the way for British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe to eventually gain control of the storied football club.
The Qataris had offered more than £5 billion ($6,1 billion) for the team, compared to its current market value of $3.3 billion. The offer wasn’t enough to satisfy the demands of the club’s owners, the Glazer family, people familiar with their thinking said, who asked not to be named discussing private information.
The near-yearlong bidding process has been beset with delays, with offers failing to meet the £6 billion expectation of the Glazer family, splits among the owners about whether to sell and at what price, and fears of litigation from minority shareholders.
Bloomberg reported that Ratcliffe had emerged as the front-runner to buy into Manchester United, with the British billionaire’s recently revised offer giving him the edge over the Qataris.
Under terms being discussed, Ratcliffe could make an offer for some of the shares held by both the Glazers and minority investors in Manchester United, the people said. Ratcliffe may end up with an initial stake of roughly 25% in Manchester United in a deal that could value the club at more than £5 billion ($6.1 billion), they said.
Ratcliffe would then slowly increase his ownership of the club at steadily higher valuations, one person said.
Any offer from Ratcliffe could still risk opposition from minority shareholders.
“I will oppose anything that gives the majority Glazers a materially better deal than minority investors,” said Ricky Sandler, founder of hedge fund Eminence Capital. “That is for sure.”
The Manchester United board is set to meet in the coming days. However, discussions are still ongoing, and the Glazers could decide to keep the club, strike a deal with Ratcliffe or institutional investors, or a combination of the above.
Any agreement would bring an end to the long-running battle for one of sport’s biggest prizes. Manchester United competes in the English Premier League and its rich history and sprawling global fan base mean it’s long been coveted by investors looking for a foothold in the world’s richest football league.
Ratcliffe’s proposal could give certain members of the Glazer family, including Joel and Avram Glazer, a chance to remain invested — at least in the short term.