Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bucs, Man U fans skeptical of Glazer family's intentions
TAMPA - A group of British journalists arrived in Tampa last week to gather material for Sunday's National Football League matchup in London between the Buccaneers and the New England Patriots. They toured the club's lavish facility and were granted private interviews with Bucs head coach Raheem Morris and veteran players Ronde Barber and Cadillac Williams. But when they asked for a few minutes with Tampa Bay's reclusive owners, after a 5,000-mile journey overseas, they received a predictable response. Access denied.Almost 15 years after purchasing the Buccaneers for $192 million, the Glazers find themselves being pilloried on both sides of the Atlantic. A growing number of Tampa Bay football fans claim the Glazers have lost interest in their profitable NFL franchise and are operating the Bucs on the cheap. In London, supporters of Manchester United are increasingly concerned about the massive debt the Glazer family faces in operating the international soccer powerhouse. With the Bucs off to an 0-6 start and Manchester United contending for a fourth consecutive Premier League title, some Buc fans suggest the Glazers are siphoning off football funds to prop up their soccer franchise. "That charge has no merit,'' said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. "The Glazer family has consistently demonstrated a commitment to winning in the NFL and that has not changed. They've restructured their organization and patience will be a No. 1 imperative in Tampa.'' Manchester United plays in Liverpool on Sunday, but the Glazers plan to attend the Bucs-Patriots game at Wembley Stadium, where security will be exceedingly tight - both in the stands and in the home owner's box. "It's special for us because we're representing the NFL,'' said Joel Glazer, who is listed as a co-chairman for both the Buccaneers and Manchester United. "It's about the league ... it's about American football.'' But today's game is also about the Buc owners, who have yet to field questions regarding Manchester United since 2005, when Malcolm Glazer bought controlling interest in the world's most popular sports franchise. The 81-year-old Buc owner remains incapacitated after suffering two strokes in spring 2006. His sons, Joel, Bryan, Ed and Avram, have assumed a more active role in operating the family's sports interests. The Buccaneers entered the 2009 season with the most room in the 32-team NFL under the salary cap, the payroll ceiling governing how much each club can pay out in player compensation. They remain $23 million under the NFL's $127 million limit as they attempt to end a 10-game losing streak by upsetting the heavily favored Patriots. The Glazers are still paying former coach Jon Gruden and former general manager Bruce Allen, who were fired in January to trigger a massive overhaul. "I hear all the critics, but to me, the Glazers are 100 percent behind the Buccaneers,'' said veteran defensive tackle Chris Hovan. "Look at our facility, look at the way they take care of us. It's up to us as players to perform on Sundays. When we don't win, everyone wants answers and the blame goes to people that don't deserve it.'' Tampa Bay's dismal start has diminished fan interest in the team and attendance, prompting concerns about a TV blackout, which has never occurred since Raymond James Stadium opened in 1998. Only 42,847 fans attended the last home game against Carolina, roughly 23,000 fewer than capacity, and the crowd for the Nov. 8 throwback game against Green Bay is expected to attract a large contingent of fans rooting for the visitors. "It's how you manage the cap that will dictate your success in the NFL,'' Goodell said. "You don't have to have the highest payroll.'' Goodell acknowledged that the Manchester United angle has added an element of intrigue to today's matchup. The Glazers won't talk about their involvement, but Tony Paris has no such qualms. A former international soccer player, Paris is the executive director of Everton Florida, a soccer club in St. Petersburg that is affiliated with Everton of the Premier League. "I think it'll be an electric atmosphere at Wembley,'' Paris said, "and all eyes will be on the Glazers. When they first came in, people wondered why people with no soccer background were buying Manchester United. Was it going to become a circus? How American were they going to try to make it? What are their intentions? "They've been extremely successful on the field, but now people are worried about the debt they've run up. Most of the owners who have come into the Premiership have used their own cash. This guy, Malcolm Glazer, did it on borrowed money.'' Since Glazer purchased the club for $1.5 billion, Manchester United's worth has grown to more than $1.9 billion and the team generates $500 million in annual revenue, according to Forbes magazine, which calls it the world's most valuable sports franchise. Sponsorships, ticket sales and satellite TV revenue streams have proved lucrative, but a revised debt package calls for an annual outlay of more than $90 million, raising concerns among Manchester United supporters. Big Red fans are watching the declining fortunes of the Buccaneers with interest, fearing that a prolonged period of NFL failure will erode the portfolio of the Glazers and impact their ability to meet those hefty debt demands on a soccer franchise that claims 330 million fans worldwide. Despite Malcolm Glazer's inclusion in the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans at No. 139 ($2.4 billion), former Manchester United chairman Martin Edwards has been publicly wary of the club's heavily leveraged financial structure. Manchester United has plenty of company in that regard. A protest is planned before the match in Liverpool on Sunday by fans angered over the home team's high debt ratio. Through all the off-field tumult, Manchester United keeps winning and the Glazers keep silent. "It's a proven fact the Glazer family has chosen to spend their money wisely,'' said Bucs coach Raheem Morris. "They talk to us before all our games and sometimes during the week as well. I don't know a lot about Manchester United, but I do know that owning them is very special. They've got a bunch of brothers in charge of a lot of things and these are very smart business people.'' When asked whether the Glazers will be prepared for today's media swarm at Wembley, Morris said, "I think they'll be OK. Good luck finding them.''