OPINION: EDITOR’S COMMENT

Campaign suggested mischievously this summer that it might not be inconceivable for, say, Interpublic to buy Manchester United. Of course, the choice of Interpublic was purely hypothetical, with nothing more tangible than Frank Lowe’s support for the club to go on - plus the fact that Rupert Murdoch had bought the LA Dodgers and New York Knicks, Canal Plus owned Paris St Germain and Silvio Berlusconi controlled AC Milan.

Campaign suggested mischievously this summer that it might not be

inconceivable for, say, Interpublic to buy Manchester United. Of course,

the choice of Interpublic was purely hypothetical, with nothing more

tangible than Frank Lowe’s support for the club to go on - plus the fact

that Rupert Murdoch had bought the LA Dodgers and New York Knicks, Canal

Plus owned Paris St Germain and Silvio Berlusconi controlled AC

Milan.



Now, Murdoch has once again outwitted his rivals to emerge as United’s

likely buyer for the extraordinary figure of pounds 575 million. It’s a

monster he did as much as the club itself to create. Only nine years

ago, United’s boss, Martin Edwards, couldn’t sell to Michael Knighton

for pounds 20 million.



Instead, United floated for pounds 47 million in 1991. That was before

its incredible run of success and, crucially, the launch of the Premier

League in 1992.



Sky’s buying of the rights to the Premier League transformed the game,

pumping into it the money that funded the rebuilding of stadia demanded

by the Taylor report, and the extraordinary influx of foreign

players.



Murdoch’s cross-media promotion created the football hype. It led to

special sections in the papers, the rush by other channels to televise

even minor pre-season friendlies, and just the opposite of the dire

warnings of empty stadia that preceded the advent of live coverage.



Has it been good for advertisers? Of course. Not the least because

football established Sky in Britain’s TV landscape. Sky football

provided a value-for-money way of reaching young male viewers.



Despite this, its ratings are often no more than one-sixth of Match of

the Day’s. But archaic measurement systems do not record the high

proportion of fans watching on screens in pubs. Regardless, Sky viewers

are more clearly definable. Agencies that lambast Sky’s figures appear

stuck in the volume trap.



Of course, Murdoch wishes to buy Manchester United to safeguard live

football rights (domestic or, in future, European). But will he run

Manchester United any worse than the incompetents who run some of our

leading clubs?



Somehow, despite all the money pouring in, many still manage to make a

loss.



That said, control of Manchester United would give Murdoch effective

control of the league. The club is as big as Juventus and Inter Milan

combined. The game will be run better as a business and offer more to

the commercial world.



However, it’s not unreasonable to ask whether one man should be allowed

to have such control and whether the game will be run better for

ordinary fans (whoever they may be). Ultimately, if the game isn’t run

for fans then isn’t that bad business? One thing is sure: Murdoch has

opened the floodgates.



Next: M&C Saatchi fights Carlton for Arsenal.



Thirty years ago such a deal would have been unimaginable. Yet the

notion that nothing’s changed in the UK ad business in that period has

become commonplace. Is this really true? Well, next week is Campaign’s

30th birthday.



Judge for yourself with our special 176-page commemorative issue.



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