Barcelona and Real Madrid are undoubtedly huge football clubs with enormous fan bases. Yet Manchester United trumps them both as the most loved sporting brand name anywhere in the world according to the highly respected Forbes magazine. In addition to a reported 333 million worldwide supporters, United is considered to be the most valuable franchise in sports and continues growing because of its championships and tradition. Seattle Times reporter Joshua Mayers explains how United became the worlds best loved club.
The support never ceases to amaze Ryan Giggs. No matter where Manchester United tours – and in the past few years the storied English club has visited Taiwan, Australia, South Africa and, most recently, Seattle. Players are welcomed by adoring fans and cheered like rock stars. “It’s great all around the world” said Giggs, the 37 year old midfielder who has played his entire career with United.
The Red Devils have an estimated 333 million supporters worldwide, more than the population of the United States. United, which is owned by the Glazers, the American family that also runs the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was recently rated the most valuable sports franchise in the world by Forbes magazine with a worth of $1.86 billion.
Legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson credits a certain “magnetism” and “romance” about the team for its global appeal. Certainly the dozens of championships and trophies play a part, as well.
So how has United gotten so big? How has a 133 year old team that suffered a 25 season title drought from 1967 to 1992 grown into the world’s most loved franchise in just 20 years? Many credit a combination of factors. A consistent run of success under Ferguson that coincided perfectly with the advent of the English Premier League, a tradition of playing an attractive style dating to Sir Matt Busby in the 1950s and a worldwide show of support after a terrible tragedy.
Years before Fergusonearned the title of “Sir” in 1999, the Scotsman was just in his first year with United hoping to revive the team from decades of under achievement. He was hired in 1986 and Liverpool was the prevailing team at the time. The mission was simple and Fergie, as he is often known, vowed to knock Liverpool off its perch in an expletive laden tirade. Strong words were followed by even stronger performance.
Under Ferguson, United has won 12 English Premier League titles, five FA Cups, two European Champions Leagues and a dozen other trophies “He’s probably the greatest manager that’s ever lived” said Giggs.
Much of that success coincided when the introduction of the English Premier League when the clubs broke away from the Football League in 1992. Thanks to the lucrative television deal that came with the move, United’s success was easily accessible to the next generation of soccer loving children watching acrossEurope, the reflections of which are seen on the current roster.
“Everyone has a dream to play for United” said Nani, the 24 year old winger fromPortugal. Anders Lindegaard, 27, grew up in Denmark idolizing the Red Devils, especially superstar Danish goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel and echoed that sentiment. “It was my club” said Lindegaard, a goalkeeper himself “and it’s a great dream coming true to represent it.”
Tradition runs beyond just winning at Manchester United. “I think you go back 50 odd years from Sir Matt’s day that they always had great players and they always played the right way” saidFerguson. And what does playing the right way entail? “I think if we were winning things and not playing attractive, the fans wouldn’t stand for it” said Giggs who grew up a United fan in Wales.
League rival Arsenal has only just recently shifted from a defensive approach and used to be ridiculed with chants of “Boring, boring Arsenal!” or “One-nil to the Arsenal!” Thanks to wonderfully skilled players like George Best and Sir Bobby Charlton, that reputation has never been the case with United, an endearing quality for many fans.
Doing things the right way has also carried off the field. Sounders FC star Arlo White, a native ofLeicester, experienced the club’s generosity first hand in 1984 when his father Mel suffered a serious industrial accident while printing a United match day program.
Club secretary Ken Ramsden learned of the misfortune and sent flowers and a letter to the White family saying “If there’s anything you need let us know” White and his brother received all sorts of United gear “I remember thinking that was a class act” he said “they weren’t the behemoth that they are today as a club but they were still huge and to show that personal touch was amazing.”
OnFeb. 6, 1958, the Manchester United team plane crashed on its third takeoff attempt from theMunich-Riem Airport under awful weather conditions. Seven players and 14 other passengers died on the scene. Young star Duncan Edwards, who many felt was destined to become a legend, suffered serious injuries and died two weeks later.
“What I remember most about that time was the togetherness of all the other premier clubs” said Alan Hinton, 68, a former NASL Sounders coach who was an apprentice player for United rival Wolverhamptonat the time. “They went out of their way to loan players to United so they could continue the season. The country came together in support of the club and the families of the lost ones. It was really hard to take but it built a character at Manchester United that still holds true today.”
White conceded that “United got a lot of fans off the back of that, including my dad and other people who weren’t from Manchester.” Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller can attest to that “The United fans come fromLondon, they come fromIreland, they come from all over the place.”
A uniqueness, it seems, that has also elevated Manchester United to the top of the sporting world.
|Most valuable sports franchises according to Forbes magazine|
|ManchesterUnited (Football)||$1.86 billion|
|DallasCowboys (NFL)||$1.81 billion|
|New YorkYankees (MLB)||$1.7 billion|
|WashingtonRedskins (NFL)||$1.55 billion|
|New EnglandPatriots (NFL)||$1.37 billion|
|Arsenal (Football)||$1.19 billion|
|New YorkGiants (NFL)||$1.18 billion|
|HoustonTexans (NFL)||$1.17 billion|
|New YorkJets (NFL)||$1.14 billion|