Manchester Fans Cry 'Offsides'

What do fans do when their home team is sold to someone not from the home town? Burn the new owner in effigy? Threaten to cancel season tickets? Promise massive protests at the next game? Try to start a breakaway team?

All of the above, it seems, given the initial reactions of crestfallen fans when British soccer powerhouse Manchester United learned that an American billionaire bought a controlling interest in the team - the richest sports franchise in the world.

Time for a gut check. After the Manchester United Red Devils soccer club - Man U as it is known - went public by listing the team's shares in 1991, capitalism at first, and globalization soon after, were bound to play a role. Professional sports fans should harbor no illusions. Money trumps hometown loyalty. Man U watched Spain's Real Madrid pay $41 million in transfer rights for David Beckham, the team's most prominent player over the past decade. The team plays in the Premier League - equivalent to the NFL or Major League Baseball in the US - for profit.

In Manchester, England, there may be a symbiotic connection between worker rights and fan rights. After all, Marx and Engels discussed Das Kapital there more than a century ago. But the fact that the new owner isn't exactly seen as a noble protagonist of the fan proletariat doesn't alter the fact that Malcolm Glazer paid more than $1.5 billion for Man U.

Fans do have a sense of ownership in a team. It's not money they spend to gain this ownership, it's loyalty. Mr. Glazer - who took the bottom-dwelling Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Superbowl victory three years ago - knows he must field a team that measures up to the caliber of this historic club. Anything less and fans will withdraw their loyalty and support.

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