Ronaldo Return Brings Big Mutual Fund Buy in Manchester United

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Mutual fund company Ariel Investments has taken a 13.8% stake in Manchester United, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission Friday afternoon.

Ariel, a Chicago-based firm with $16.8 billion under management, now owns 5.97 million shares of New York-listed ManU, worth $103.2 million, based on the soccer team’s shares closing Friday at $17.28.

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In timing sure to lend credence to Cristiano Ronaldo’s supposed power to move the markets, Ariel acquired the position on Aug. 31, just days after the Portuguese star’s return to Old Trafford was announced. In June, many media outlets claimed Ronaldo, the world’s most-followed person on Instagram, moved Coca-Cola’s stock when he removed two bottles from a podium at the European championships (that claim is clearly wrong, however).

More likely an influence on Ariel’s purchase than Ronaldo’s return to England is value: Publicly traded sports teams are often considered to be undervalued by the stock market relative to what investors believe a team would fetch in a sale to a private buyer. Manchester United, England’s most-legendary soccer team, has a market capitalization of $2.8 billion, well below the values of the premier teams in the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NBA. A spokesperson for Ariel decline to comment.

Ariel now is the third-largest owner of Manchester United’s common stock, after Baron Capital Group, another U.S. fund group that owns 32%, and Lindsell Train, a U.K. investment company that owns 29%, according to ManU’s 2021 annual report. Malcom Glazer and his family control the company through a Class B supervoting stock, however. Among Ariel’s holdings are a few other sports-related businesses. Its funds own shares in Madison Square Garden Sports, the holding company of basketball’s New York Knicks and hockey’s New York Rangers; MSG Entertainment, which owns the Manhattan arena of those two teams as well as other live entertainment venues; and ski mountain company Vail Resorts, according to its latest disclosure to the SEC.

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