Manchester United May Have Lost

Manchester United may have lost out in the sporting glamour stakes when it sold David Beckham to Real Madrid. But the soccer club could be about to gain some Las Vegas sparkle through a tie-up with MGM Mirage, the world’s largest gaming group.

The two companies have held detailed talks on a Man Utd-themed casino venture, with the proposals predicated on forthcoming reforms of UK gaming legislation.

Under the reforms – which are set to become law within two years – many of the curbs on new casinos will be lifted. Operators will be allowed to serve more customers and install large numbers of lucrative slot machines.

Both companies declined to comment, but the talks come as MGM Mirage scours the UK for partners and potential deals. It sees Britain as a key new market because of the proposed reforms. It is also keen to expand abroad because prohibitive tax changes in the US have restricted growth in its domestic market.

Rivals have also taken a close interest in the UK. Harrah’s Entertainment, owner of a number of Las Vegas properties, recently agreed a joint venture with Gala, the UK’s largest bingo operator, to open resort casinos.

Any tie-up between Man Utd and MGM Mirage would not be the first between a US gaming group and an English football club. Isle of Capri, which owns riverboat casinos in Mississippi, is to build its first UK casino in Coventry, together with a new stadium for Coventry City soccer club.

Man Utd, which is touring the US, is looking to extend its brand into new areas. Recently the club agreed a deal with a cinema chain to open a Man Utd-themed cinema and it owns land around its Old Trafford stadium on which a casino could be built.

The club has also struck a deal with Disneyland Paris to run children’s soccer schools at the resort staffed by Man Utd coaches. The deal was brokered by Nike, the sportswear giant which is the club’s main marketing partner.

The soccer schools deal could lead to similar projects at Disney’s US resorts. Man Utd is considering a range of initiatives aimed at increasing its profile in the US.

With the club close to the limits of growth in the UK, foreign markets offer it an opportunity for the expansion it is seeking. Nike also wants to promote soccer in the US and views the club as the ideal vehicle.

The club estimates that it has 4m fans in the US and during its tour it will play matches in Los Angeles, New York and Philadelphia.


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