English football club Manchester United plan to tap their massive Asian fan base and raise up to $1 billion via a lucrative share listing in Singapore, media reports said today.
The Red Devils, the Premiership title-holders, were ranked by business magazine Forbes earlier this year as the world's most valuable football club with a value of $1.86 billion.
Analysts said the reported initial public offering (IPO) would exploit the deep capital markets of Asia, where United have an estimated 190 million fans, or more than half of their estimated 300 million followers worldwide.
The Straits Times newspaper said representatives of the English champions met with Singapore Exchange (SGX) officials recently. Representatives of the Glazers, the American family that owns the debt-plagued club, have been meeting bankers in the city-state, it said.
Singapore's state investment agency Temasek Holdings is being eyed as a cornerstone investor, the newspaper added. An SGX spokesperson said it was the exchange's policy not to comment on press reports.
Sources said the IPO was being planned for the fourth quarter of 2011 and that Credit Suisse Group had been mandated as sole global coordinator and bookrunner on the deal.
The estimate of $1 billion for 30% of the club's shares means a total valuation for the company of more than $3 billion, far higher than other estimates such as given by Forbes.
Singapore's Business Times also noted that the timing of United's IPO would come ahead of new UEFA regulations making it mandatory for European clubs to break even from the start of the 2013/2014 season. If not, they risk being expelled from European club competitions.
The club, which was once listed on the London Stock Exchange as Manchester United PLC, had reportedly first planned to list in Hong Kong. But it changed its mind and now prefers to list in Hong Kong's regional rival Singapore, according to the sources.
United were delisted from the London exchange in 2005 after US tycoon Malcolm Glazer bought the club through a deal that was heavily reliant on debt financing. The family's ownership has been deeply unpopular with United fans. Singapore's Business Times said the business is currently £717m in the red.
English football counts wealthy Asians among its most ardent fans. Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim, a self-confessed United fan, last year lost a bid to buy Liverpool for £320m.
A Singapore listing by United would boost the city-state's credentials as a financial centre. The China port unit of Hong Kong conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa - Hutchison Port Holdings Trust - raised $5.5 billion in Singapore earlier this year.
But perennial rival Hong Kong has also had its own recent coups with successful IPOs by Italian luxury goods house Prada and Samsonite, the world's biggest luggage maker.