The announcement that the Football University is to go ahead means that the issue can finally be discussed openly. The new institution will be a separate entity and not a part of Lancaster University in any way. It will be controlled by two companies – UA92 Ltd (the holding company) and UA92 Manchester Ltd (operations) – in which Lancaster will have a substantial stake. How substantial a stake is still unknown, though the sum of £4M for a 40% share was suggested at an early stage in the discussions.
The ‘Managing Director’ of both companies has been named as Brendan Flood, a Manchester lettings magnate and a director of Burnley football club. The choice of Mr. Flood appears to be an odd one. He is founder and a director of UCFB, an education company with campuses at Wembley, Burnley FC and, recently, at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium, offering degree courses in sports-related media, marketing, finance, psychology, coaching and event-management. Very like, in fact, the proposed curriculum for UA92, and aimed at the same student market. It’s as if Pep Guardiola was to pop up in the dugout alongside José Mourinho at the next game at Old Trafford. Is an early merger with UA92 on the cards?
It is uncertain how much the Singapore-based billionaire Peter Lim – the main financial backer of the Class of 92 – will be involved in UA92. His name certainly figured in the early negotiations with Lancaster. However, there are signs his business relationship with Neville & Co may have come under strain. Earlier this year Lim’s Singapore company Rowsley had to issue a profits warning to investors, partly due to the poor performance of the Class of 92 businesses in Manchester, 75% of which is owned by Peter Lim. This was followed by Ryan Giggs’ and Gary Neville’s failed central Manchester development scheme (see subtext 158), a setback for Lim’s Manchester property development ambitions. Intriguingly, the same Brendan Flood is also a partner in Giggs’ and Neville’s Jacksons Row Development Partnership. It’s a small world, is Manchester property development.
For Lancaster staff, the immediate impact of the venture will be on those working in IT support, HR, marketing, compliance and quality assurance. subtext understands that individuals from these areas will be seconded to begin the daunting task of setting up a new university from scratch. What is not known is whether this will be voluntary or be deemed to be part of the individual’s employment contract. There is also the question of the impact of withdrawing experienced staff from areas that are already under-resourced and where work stress is worryingly high. Will there be like-for-like replacement of the seconded? Past practice in the University would suggest not. No doubt the campus unions will have prepared a long list of searching questions to present to management.
While academic colleagues may have thought they could get away with having nothing to do with UA92, it seems the academic leadership of FASS has been playing Simon swaps. Simon Guy, erstwhile FASS Dean, has been seconded as Academic Director of UA92, while Simon Bainbridge, previously Deputy Dean, is now Acting Dean of FASS for the next year.
One of the arguments used in favour of Lancaster’s involvement in the Football University was that the Manchester United connection would enhance the attraction of the University to potential international students, particularly in the Far East. Admittedly, the potential is somewhat lessened now that David Beckham is no longer involved in the Class of 92 but it was still an opportunity too good to miss (so it was said).
Unfortunately, cashing in on footballing fame may not be as straightforward as it sounds. Celebrity endorsement is big business these days, and it doesn’t come cheap, thanks to the ruthless marketing of companies who own the ‘image rights’ of the celebs. In the case of the Class of 92, endorsement is handled by an outfit called Mint Media, which also owns the image rights of Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo (now that would be an endorsement worth getting!). And who owns Hong Kong-based Mint Media? Why none other than Mr. Peter Lim, financial backer of the Class of 92 (see above). We can but hope that when the University seeks to use Paul Scholes’ sunny features to promote the benefits of a Lancaster MBA, Mr. Lim will be amenable to providing us with mates’ rates for the job.