Manchester United announced on Tuesday it was commencing a process to explore strategic alternatives, including a new investment or a potential sale, 17 years after the American Glazer family bought the English Premier League football club.
The Glazer family is working with financial advisers on the process, which could lead to a partial sale of the Old Trafford club or investments including stadium and infrastructure redevelopment, the club said in a statement.
Manchester United fans have been clamouring for a change of ownership and the Glazers have been the target of intense criticism as the team have gone five years without winning a trophy. The last silverware they won was the Europa League and League Cup back in 2017.
"As we seek to continue building on the club's history of success, the board has authorized a thorough evaluation of strategic alternatives," Avram Glazer and Joel Glazer, executive co-chairmen and directors of United, said in the statement.
"We will evaluate all options to ensure that we best serve our fans and that Manchester United maximizes the significant growth opportunities available to the club today and in the future," the statement said.
In August, British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe had expressed interest in buying United, Reuters reported. At the time, Elon Musk had also joked about planning to buy the club.
Wealthy Asian tycoons, especially those from China, have been buying European teams in recent years including Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers and Italy's Inter Milan.
However, football clubs have since been deemed unfavorable assets by China and any major overseas purchase would seem unlikely at the moment, said Mark Dreyer, Beijing-based author of "Sporting Superpower", a book about China's sports ambitions.
"It's almost impossible to see how any Chinese-related entity could justify a purchase of this magnitude in the current climate," he said. "... with China only just now facing up to the realities of COVID-19, which makes the entire economic environment that much more uncertain, no state body would approve this kind of deal."
The owners are under pressure with United sitting fifth in the Premier League halfway through the season, which has been suspended because of the current Qatar World Cup.
Manchester United shares jumped as much as 20% after Sky News first reported on the sale process, giving the club a market capitalisation of $2.6 billion.
The company was worth $2.5 billion at the close of U.S. trading on Tuesday. At its peak as a public company, it had a market capitalisation of $4.3 billion in 2018.
The Glazers bought the club for $939.07 million in 2005 in a highly leveraged deal that has been criticised for loading debt onto the club.
United has been listed on the New York Stock Exchange since 2012 when the Glazers sold 10% of their holding via the listing and have sold more shares since.
The Raine Group is acting as the financial adviser and Latham & Watkins LLP is the legal adviser to Manchester United.
Rothschild and Co. are acting as financial advisers to the Glazer family shareholders.
Among the fan protests against the Glazers was one in May 2021 that forced the postponement of a home match against Liverpool, one of the club's biggest rivals. It was the first Premier League match to be postponed because of a protest.