TAMPA, Fla. — Malcolm Glazer, a self-made billionaire who shunned the spotlight while leading the takeover of English soccer’s Manchester United and transforming the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers into Super Bowl champions, died Wednesday. He was 85.
The reclusive Palm Beach businessman had been in failing health since April 2006 when a pair of strokes left him with impaired speech and limited mobility in his right arm and leg.
He was not involved in day to day operations of either of his sports franchises and was rarely spotted at games in recent years, instead remaining at his mansion in South Florida while entrusting leadership of the Bucs to three of six children, sons Bryan, Joel and Ed.
While some disgruntled fans blame ownership for a stretch of futility that has seen the Bucs miss the playoffs the past six seasons, the elder Glazer generally will be remembered for making the commitment necessary to keep the team from moving to another city in the 1990s.
Glazer raised his profile in 2005 with a $1.47 billion purchase of Manchester United that was bitterly opposed by fans of one of the world’s richest soccer clubs. Before that, his unobtrusive management style helped transform the Bucs from a laughingstock into a model franchise that won the franchise’s only NFL title 12 years ago.
“The thoughts of everyone at Manchester United are with the family tonight,” Manchester United said in a statement.
Born Aug. 25, 1928, in Rochester, New York, the son of a watch-parts salesman, Glazer began working for the family business when he was 8 and took over the operation as a teenager when his father died in 1943.
As president and CEO of First Allied Corp., the holding company for the family business interests, he invested in mobile-home parks, restaurants, food service equipment, marine protein, television stations, real estate, natural gas and oil production and other ventures. Forbes ranked him this year, along with his family, as tied for No. 354 on the world’s richest people list with an estimated net worth of $4.2 billion.
He purchased the Bucs for a then-NFL record $192 million in 1995, taking over one of the worst-run and least successful franchises in professional sports. And while Glazer once said he probably overpaid by $50 million, the value of the team has more than quadrupled.
“Malcolm Glazer was the guiding force behind the building of a Super Bowl-champion organization. His dedication to the community was evident in all he did, including his leadership in bringing Super Bowls to Tampa Bay,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. “Malcolm’s commitment to the Bucs, the NFL and the people of the Tampa Bay region are the hallmarks of his legacy. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Linda, their six children and the entire Glazer family.”
In an era when many owners of professional teams attract nearly as much attention as the athletes, Glazer was content to allow three of his sons handle daily operation of the Bucs and rarely granted interviews or visited the team’s offices and training facility.
But he was a fixture at games before his health became an issue, and he spent generously to acquire players and provide coaches and front office personnel with the resources to do their jobs. To fans accustomed to the frugal ways of original Bucs owner Hugh Culverhouse, Glazer was a savior.
“With our major investment here, we didn’t come in here to have a loser,” Glazer said after acquiring the Bucs.
In one of its boldest moves as NFL owners, the Glazer family fired Tony Dungy as coach after the 2001 season and paid a hefty price — four draft picks and $8 million cash — to the Raiders for the opportunity to sign Jon Gruden to a contract.
The move paid off right away. Gruden led the Bucs to their first NFL title the following season, and Glazer joined in the celebration in the locker room.
“He came from heaven and he brought us to heaven,” Glazer said. “We were waiting for the right man and the right man came — Jon Gruden.”
The Glazers didn’t get a warm reception in the United Kingdom, where Man U fans protested and burned Glazer’s likeness in effigy because they feared the American was acquiring the storied British soccer franchise purely for financial gain.
At the time, Mark Longden of the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association, said his group was “calling on all supporters to wear black. If they can get hold of black flags, they should wave them because it represents what is happening to the club.”
The club, though, has had success on the pitch, winning the League Cup in 2006, 2009 and 2010, the English Premier League from 2007-09, 2011 and 2013 and European Cup and Club World Cup titles in 2008.
Within a year of the leveraged buyout, Glazer had two strokes and his children ran the 20-time English champions, with all of them sitting on the board of directors and owning the remaining 90 percent of the club that was not listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 2012.
Although United’s debt has dropped from a high of high of $1.1 billion in 2008-09 to $590 million, anger toward the Glazers has remained among sections of the fan base. The family’s divisiveness in Manchester has been exacerbated by its reluctance to engage with any supporters or speak publicly about the club.
Despite its worst league finish in 24 years this season, United has been generating record revenue, each quarter, with income set to exceed $700 million in the 2013-14 financial year.
Before he bought the Buccaneers, Glazer made failed bids to land an NFL expansion franchise for Baltimore and purchase the New England Patriots, San Diego Padres and Pittsburgh Pirates. He also tried to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers from Rupert Murdoch before turning his attention to Manchester United.
“I will remember Malcolm Glazer as someone whose influence made a lasting impact on both ends of the Atlantic in the world’s two greatest sports leagues, the National Football League and the Barclays Premier League, Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan said.
“But his greatest legacy may be in the state of Florida, where I am now fortunate to own the Jacksonville Jaguars. Malcolm brought to our state the Bucs, Super Bowls and of course a world championship in 2002. In essence, he helped turn a good football state into a great football state. He will be missed but always admired.”