Despite City's title, United still the bigger club

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 12, 2014 at 12:41 pm •  Published: May 12, 2014
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MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Manchester City has deposed its neighbor as Premier League champions for the second time in three years, but is not close to usurping United's global supremacy — both as a football club and as a brand. For many people, the word "Manchester" still equates simply with "United."

Even Premier League officials marked the end of the season by assuring United's American owners of the team's enduring power.

"They are the world's largest football club in my view with huge resources, with huge determination and a fantastic fan base," league chief executive Richard Scudamore told Sky Sports television. "Of course their time will come again."

However glum United fans felt as the blue half of Manchester celebrated into Monday morning, it's too early to see the humiliating seventh-place finish as the start of a downward spiral. Declarations that the balance of power has shifted in Manchester would be as premature as they were in 2012, when City last wrestled the trophy off United only to end the following season 11 points adrift.

United claims to have 659 million fans worldwide; City hasn't even tried to provide an estimate. United has been valued at $2.8 billion by Forbes magazine — behind Real Madrid and Barcelona — while City is seventh in the rankings at $863 million. And while City's income last year was around $449 million, United's was $602 million.

The big difference this time, however, is that there is no Alex Ferguson to plot the reclamation of the trophy. The immediate implication of United's fall from grace is the failure to qualify for Europe for the first time in 24 years. But falling short even of the Europa League spots might have been United's biggest achievement in a season when David Moyes' reign was curtailed with four matches remaining.

With nothing like the TV revenue or prestige of the Champions League, which United won in 1999 and 2008, the Europa League would have been a grueling slog across the continent to play less-illustrious teams in what seems to be a never-ending competition. While United earned around $50 million from the 2012-13 Champions League, it would have generated less than $14 million from UEFA for even winning the Europa League.

Missing out on that competitions provides another — possibly much more lucrative — way to cope with the loss of TV and ticket revenue. Taking advantage of its massive popularity abroad, United has considered using the mid-week breaks to play lucrative, trouble-free friendlies in the Middle East, which would also provide a paid-for warm-weather break.

United, most likely under Louis van Gaal, can focus its resources on the Premier League, and seek to emulate Liverpool's ascent from seventh to second in a year.