English football club Manchester United (MANU.N) is negotiating granting exclusivity to the consortium led by Qatar’s Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani in talks to sell itself for more than $6 billion, people familiar with the matter said on Thursday.
While a deal remains uncertain, the development represents a major milestone in the efforts of Sheikh Jassim – the son of Qatar’s former prime minister who is one of the richest men in the Gulf state – to take over the iconic sports brand.
Members of the Glazer family, who own minority stakes in Manchester United and control it thanks to a dual-class share structure, would be cashing out as part of the proposed deal, one of the sources said.
The Qatari offer is currently viewed by the Glazers more favorably than a bid from British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, founder of chemicals producer INEOS, the sources added. Ratcliffe’s offer envisions that the Glazers would keep some interest in Manchester United.
Manchester United would not be allowed to negotiate with any bidder other than Sheikh Jassim for the exclusivity period. It could not be learned how long this period may last. The sources cautioned that the situation remained fluid and a new bid from Ratcliffe could prevent Sheikh Jassim from securing exclusivity.
The sources requested anonymity because the matter is confidential. Representatives for Manchester United and Sheikh Jassim did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Shares of Manchester United jumped as much as 15% on the news and ended trading in New York on Thursday up 6.8% at $24.81.
A $6 billion-plus deal for Manchester United would be one of the biggest ever in the sports world, following a similarly sized sale of the National Football League’s Washington Commanders earlier this year.
It would also represent a significant premium to other soccer deals. Last year, the $3.1 billion acquisition of Chelsea Football Club by an investment group led by Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital valued it at 5.7 times revenue for its last financial year.
A sale for more than $6 billion would value Manchester United at more than 10 times last year’s annual revenue, according to Refinitiv data.
The Glazer family, which made its fortune in real estate, retail and healthcare and also owns the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, bought the team for 790 million pounds ($1 billion) in 2005.
Record 20-time English champions, Manchester United has over 650 million fans worldwide, according to market research firm Kantar. A large number of them have been clamoring for a change of ownership.
That is because the Glazers have overseen a significant downturn in the club’s fortunes, with the club winning just the last of their 20 top-flight titles in former manager Alex Ferguson’s final season in charge in 2012-13.
Manchester United won the League Cup under Erik ten Hag this season, but their third-place finish in the league, 14 points behind local rivals and treble winners Manchester City, underscores the scale of the turnaround required.
While a section of supporters may view the deep pockets of a new Qatari owner as the quickest way to shrink the gap between United and Abu Dhabi-backed Manchester City, others have expressed “deep concern” at Qatar’s human rights record.
Several Middle Eastern nations have made huge investments in sport in recent years, leading to criticism that they are trying to “sportswash” their images.
Qatar hosted football’s showpiece event, the World Cup, in 2022, while state-run Qatar Sport Investments (QSI) owns Ligue 1 club Paris St Germain.
Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) bankrolls the breakaway LIV Golf Series, which recently agreed to merge with the PGA Tour, as well as Premier League team Newcastle United.