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Tuesday Cannon Fodder: framing and choices

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Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League - Old Trafford Photo by Simon Peach/PA Images via Getty Images

Good Tuesday morning, TSFers. Today, I’m going to do something surprising that I hope I don’t ever have to do again — defend Manchester United. Sort of. The Athletic reported some of the details of the recent sale of a 25% stake in the club to Sir Jim Ratcliffe, and I’m annoyed at how they framed things.

It’s sensationalized from the opening sentence, “Manchester United paid for 56 lawyers to work on the deal.” Apart from attorneys at big law firms and people who work on large, corporate deals, nobody knows how many lawyers is a reasonable number for this type of transaction. The Athletic knows that. They’re banking on the reaction being “that’s too many lawyers” aided by them not adding any context whatsoever about the average number for comparison. I’d suggest that for a £1B-plus, multinational transaction, that’s a perfectly fine and reasonable number of attorneys.

Then we get to the oldie but goodie, “The cost of the legal firm’s advice will be paid for by United, as opposed to the Glazer family which owns the Premier League side — although they will foot the bill for the personal advice they received during the strategic review process.”

Another commonplace, regular element of a business transaction presented so as to enrage the reader. “Look at the Glazers, taking money out of the club instead of paying themselves.” Once again, The Athletic knows or should know that a club, or any business, pays for its own lawyers.

It would be inappropriate and could lead to sticky legal ethics issues for the Glazers to foot the bill themselves. While they are the owners, their interests in the transaction are not completely aligned with those of the club. The club needs attorneys to represent their interests in the transaction and work towards getting the best deal for them. As The Athletic article indicates, the Glazers paid for any advice given directly to them about their interests. From where I sit, that is the correct, appropriate way to conduct the transaction.

It’s disappointing to see the choices The Athletic made. It’s usually a more even-handed outlet that holds itself to higher standards of journalism in comparison with other sources. This article tacks far too hard towards the engagement-baiting stuff you expect to see from outlets like The Daily Mail. Do better, Athletic.