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Football | Premier League

United tops global fanbase league - survey

Manchester United has doubled its global fanbase to 659 million over five years to reinforce its standing as the world's most popular soccer club, according to a survey.

Owned by the American Glazer family, United considered floating on the Singapore stock market last year before shelving the plan due to turbulent financial markets.

The survey, commissioned by the club and carried out last year by market researcher Kantar, showed almost half of United's supporters were in Asia-Pacific.

"I'm not here to speculate on financial structures," United commercial director Richard Arnold told reporters when asked about the stock market plan. "What this shows is that our family of followers has doubled in five years."

Manchester United has commercial partners in 72 countries.

Kantar questioned 54 000 people in 39 countries between June and August 2011, and its survey revealed soccer had 1.6 billion followers globally. Fans were allowed to name more than one club as their favourite.

Arnold shrugged off scepticism about the figures.

"This piece of research is very important, not only for commercial partnerships - both new and existing - but it also provides a roadmap that allows the club to understand exactly what is going on."

When the survey was conducted, United had just won the English league for a record 19th time and reached the final of the Champions League, Europe's premier club event.

Arnold said he did not believe United's rare blank trophy haul in the season just ended would hit its fanbase.

"It's a myth to say that football support is transient. Who you support changes less than who you are married to," he joked.

He declined to give details of the fanbase of other clubs, beyond noting United had twice as many fans in Asia as its closest challenger there, Barcelona.

European soccer clubs, many of which are loss-making, must move towards breakeven or risk exclusion from the Champions League from 2014 under new "financial fair play" rules.

Those rules could hit clubs such as newly crowned English champion Manchester City, and Champions' League winner Chelsea. The wealthy owners of both have been soaking up big losses to fund on-pitch success.

"Financial fair play represents a very appealing prospect for clubs at all levels," Arnold said.

"Manchester United is very well placed by virtue of the strong business model it has got off the pitch, and the success that generates on the pitch."


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