Manchester United Names Ed Woodward Top Executive as CEO Resigns

Will Soccer Royalty Score on Wall St.?

Manchester United, the legendary U.K. soccer club that American owner Malcolm Glazer filed papers July 3 to float on the New York Stock Exchange, would seem a smart investment. Forbes says David Beckham's former squad is worth $2.24 billion, more than the New York Yankees.

The English soccer club, controlled by the family of Malcolm Glazer, is the most valuable sports franchise in the world.


LONDON - Manchester United, the most valuable sports franchise in the world, said Wednesday that long-time CEO David Gill will step down mid-year. Executive vp Ed Woodward will assume his responsibilities, but keep his current title.

The English soccer club, which has a global fan base that follows its stars on TV and on the Internet and buys its popular merchandise, had its IPO last summer, making it a rare sports powerhouse to be listed on a stock exchange. Media and entertainment industry analysts are covering the stock as Manchester United is seen as a big content franchise.

Among the club's investors is George Soros, who recently reported owning a 7.9 percent stake.

Woodward has been with Manchester United since 2005. He initially focused on developing a growth strategy before assuming oversight of the club's commercial and media operations.

Gill, 55, joined the board of the club, known as the "Red Devils," in Feb. 1997 and has been its CEO since Sept. 2003. He will remain on the board. He was appointed vice chairman of the English Football Association in October and has been nominated as its candidate for the executive committee of European soccer association UEFA.

"I have always been conscious of the fact that, as a member of staff, I was always just a temporary custodian of this marvelous institution," Gill said. "I am also of the view that all businesses need to refresh themselves with new management and ideas and after 10 years in charge, I believe it is appropriate for someone new to pick up the baton."

The family of U.S. businessman Malcolm Glazer has controlled the club since buying it in 2005.

Woodward on Wednesday also unveiled a new management structure.

Richard Arnold, currently commercial director, will become group managing director and oversee all commercial and operational aspects of the club.

COO Michael Bolingbroke will now report to Arnold and consolidate all other club operations under him.

Manchester United's stock earlier this month hit a new high of $19.34. It has traded as low as $12 since the club went public.

In early Wednesday trading, the stock was down only 0.9 percent at $18.65 as investors seemed to be comfortable with the leadership appointment from within. That gave it a market value of $3.05 billion. Forbes magazine last year estimated the value of the soccer franchise at $2.23 billion.

Credit Suisse analyst Michael Senno last week reiterated his $21 price target and "outperform" rating on the stock of Manchester United.

"On-field performance is the biggest swing factor to our fiscal year 2013 estimates," he wrote, predicting some possible upside. "A higher-than-expected Nike [sponsorship] renewal deal is also a potential catalyst."

Twitter: @georgszalai