Having seen eight coaches come and go in less than 10 years, Manchester United fans know their false dawns. Wednesday shed a different light on strife at the giant football club: Elon Musk said he was buying it – and then said it was all a joke.
Musk, the world’s richest person, said early on Wednesday that he hadn’t been serious when he tweeted hours previously that he was going to buy Manchester United Plc, now languishing at the foot of the English Premier League as fed-up fans urge current owners, the American Glazer family to sell up.
“No, this is a long-running joke on Twitter. I’m not buying any sports teams,” Musk posted when asked by a user if he was serious about buying the club when he had posted, “I’m buying Manchester United ur (sic) welcome.”
“Although, if it were any team, it would be Man U,” he added, rubbing salt into the wound for some: “They were my fav (sic) team as a kid.”
Some Manchester United fans had previously urged Musk on Twitter to consider buying the club, complaining at what they see as under-investment at one of the world’s biggest football clubs. United haven’t won the English league title since the days of legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson claimed the last of their record 20 wins in 2013, despite the efforts of a cast of eight permanent and temporary coaches since then.
In early reactions before Musk said he was only joking, some users mockingly compared his tweet with his troubled run at buying Twitter, or seemed to consider it no more than a joke.
The northern England-based team has more than 32 million followers on its main Twitter account and Musk’s first tweet about the club garnered more than 500,000 ‘likes’ on the platform within six hours.
After Musk said he was joking, the Manchester United Fanatics Club Hungary said, “It’s just a tweet from somebody who not always thinking twice before write something (sic).”
The Manchester United Fans Club Kolkata said: “It again reinstated the fact that Elon and his tweets are just gimmicks. Although it would have been great if he really invested 1/10th of what he paid for Twitter to own this legendary club … the entire fan base is sick and tired of the Glazers.”
In early trading in the club’s Frankfurt-listed shares, the stock was up 2.5%.
Musk is now seeking to exit a $44 billion agreement to buy Twitter only four months after announcing on the platform he would buy the social media company, which has taken him to court.
He has a history of being unconventional and posting irreverent tweets, making it difficult sometimes to tell when he is joking.
“Next I’m buying Coca-Cola to put the cocaine back in,” he tweeted on April 27, two days after Twitter’s board accepted his unsolicited offer to buy the company.
Referring back to that post, on Wednesday he tweeted: “And I’m not buying Coca-Cola to put the cocaine back in, despite the extreme popularity of such a move.”
Musk’s tweets about potential acquisitions have landed him in hot water with U.S. regulators in the past.
In 2018, he tweeted that there was “funding secured” for a $72 billion deal to take Tesla private, but did not move ahead with an offer. Musk and Tesla each paid $20 million civil fines – and Musk stepped down as Tesla’s chairman – to resolve U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) claims that Musk defrauded investors.
The SEC did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Musk’s tweet that he was buying the club outside usual business hours.
Musk’s ambitions range from colonizing Mars to creating a new sustainable energy economy, and in the process he has built the most valuable car company in the world, electric vehicle maker Tesla, rocket company SpaceX, and a slew of smaller firms. One is a tunnel maker called the Boring Company.
Clamour from fans and pundits for a change of ownership at the three-time winners of the European Cup, the most prestigious club competition in the global game, has been intensifying.
British newspaper The Daily Mirror reported last year that the Glazers, who have faced widespread fan opposition to their stewardship since acquiring the club in 2005 for 790 million pounds ($957 million), were prepared to sell but only if they were offered in excess of 4 billion pounds.
In its annual rankings this year, Forbes rated Manchester United, with its huge global fanbase, the third most valuable football club in the world, worth $4.6 billion, behind only Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona.
But shares in the New York-listed football club have slid a quarter in the past 12 months, valuing it at just over $2 billion. The stock has rebounded in the past month, gaining 16% to close at $12.78 on Tuesday.
Musk and his lawyer did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment on his original Twitter post before his message that he had been joking.
The Florida-based Glazer family did not immediately respond to requests for comment, and Manchester United itself declined to comment.
(Reporting by Juby Babu in Bengaluru and Hyunjoo Jin in San Francisco; Writing by Peter Henderson, Michael Perry and Sayantani Ghosh; Editing by Aditya Soni, Neil Fullick and Kenneth Maxwell)