Glazers’ control of Man United shaped by cult of the owner in the US
Those who write the cheques call all of the shots and even get handed the trophies
Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Joel Glazer holds the Lombardi Trophy after his team defeated the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV in February. Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images
On the first Sunday in February, as confetti rained down, Commissioner Roger Goodell congratulated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on their triumph in Super Bowl LV and then handed the Vince Lombardi trophy over to Joel Glazer. Not to Tom Brady, the quarterback whose MVP performance had just delivered the title. Not to Bruce Arians, the coach who transformed a team with a losing record into winners. But to Glazer, an oleaginous businessman in a suit jacket who never made a tackle, caught a pass or kicked a field goal the entire season.
This is the way of it with American sport. The person who writes the cheques gets the glory of lifting the cup first. Shamelessly, Glazer accepted the bauble and delivered a bloodless victory speech worthy of some chinless wonder winning regional salesman of the year. As he spoke, Brady and the rest of the players, still sweaty from the fray, loitered on the field below, dutifully waiting their turn. That moment offers clues as to why this family will never understand Manchester United or its fanbase. They come out of a bizarre culture where club owners are, for reasons never explained, treated with an undue respect that includes a baffling amount of bowing and scraping.
One of the first discoveries upon moving to New York was the perverse joy of all-day sports talk radio, a madhouse where demented bloviators lambasted under-performing players, myopic umpires, and errant coaches. Nobody was safe from character assassination or evisceration. Except for one demographic. In mid-rant, seconds after questioning the right of some unfortunate quarterback to even live and breathe, hosts would suddenly change tack, come over all deferential and refer, in almost hushed tones, to the then owner of the New York Giants as Mister Mara. His first name, Wellington, was never used. Always and forever, Mister Mara. Delivered with the obsequious air of a cap-doffer genuflecting before the plutocracy.
Masters of the universe
In his classic book, Big Game - The NFL in Dangerous Times, Mark Leibovich compares the NFL owners to the denizens of the United States Senate. Apt. Both institutions are made up of mostly old, rich, white dudes who believe themselves masters of the universe and demand to be treated accordingly. Count how many times doting television cameras pan to the owners during a grid-iron game, each one a little, cuff-linked emperor beholding the grandeur of his own personal, usually tax-payer-funded, colosseum.
No matter how the Glazers and their peers try to style themselves as patricians, however, these owners actually behave like spoiled brats. If things don’t go their way, they will take their ball and stomp home. In this sport, that translates as moving the club to a different city thousands of miles away, always one where the municipal authorities have agreed to contribute more money towards the construction of a fancy, new arena. In these instances, fans and their passions are mere collateral damage. Protests are ignored. History written off. The type of dismissive approach that informed the Super League concept.
The Oakland Raiders traditionally boasted some of the most rabid supporters in the league. All of that counted for naught when Las Vegas came calling with a more attractive financial package for a better facility. So, they upped sticks and headed for the Nevada desert last season. The third NFL club to move cities for financial reasons in the past four seasons. Nothing personal. Just business.
This is the unctuous world Joel Glazer’s late father Malcom bought into in 1995 and he knew well what he was doing and why. Almost immediately, the Buccaneers shook down the local authorities for a new stadium, ramping up negotiations by threatening to decamp to Cleveland or Orlando if the $168m necessary wasn’t forthcoming. The deal they eventually agreed was so lopsided the city actually saves $250,000 any time the NFL has the Bucs play a home game in London as part of its overseas promotion.
Local tax revenue
In 2015, Tampa had to stump up another $30m from public coffers to fund renovations to the facility. Or else! That’s despite the fact the value of the club had increased over the previous two decades from $192m to $2.2bn. Anybody wondering why the Glazers have not invested in upgrading Old Trafford needs to understand they are waiting to get someone else to foot the bill. That’s what NFL owners do. Between 1997 and 2017, $7bn in local tax revenue went to constructing or refurbishing stadiums owned by some of the richest families in America.
Dynasties who amassed fortunes through capitalism lean suddenly and conveniently socialist when it comes to investing in bricks and mortar. Then again, these are the same people who refuse to give players who put their bodies on the line each week guaranteed contracts, reprehensible characters who constantly downplayed the links between concussion and CTE, even as the body count of former stars dying ridiculously young continued to mount.
Despite all that, sycophantic pundits and television commentators still slavishly refer to men like notorious massage parlor client and New England Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft by the honorific Mister, as if, somehow, they remain a cut above. America as a country suffers from a bad case of what the Wall Street Journal dubbed, “The sports owner God complex”. That’s the comfort zone where the Glazers live, where they retreat to in times of trouble, and it is why all the opprobrium and protests in Manchester are unlikely to move them.