Man Utd fans hate the Glazers, but how do they feel in Tampa Bay?

Man Utd fans hate the Glazers, but how do they feel in Tampa Bay?

1 year ago

"Most people’s concern is whether Manchester United is costing the Bucs any money. That’s their only interest."

For John Romano, there were a few days in late January when it seemed as good a time as any to try his luck.

Over the years he had spent covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Romano, a journalist and sports columnist for Tampa Bay Times, had grown used to the way things worked with the Glazer family. Face-to-face dealings with them were scarce, and on the rare occasions they did take place, they did so almost exclusively in a controlled press conference environment. This had been the way for the duration of the family's 26 years as the Bucs' owners. The likelihood of it changing was remote.

It was at that time, though, that circumstances appeared to present the Glazers with an ideal opportunity to deviate from their strict policy of near-total silence.

After years of drift, a rejuvenated, Tom Brady-inspired Bucs team had sealed their place in Super Bowl LV. In the process they had become the first team in NFL history to reach a Super Bowl which would be staged on home soil. No owners - surely - would pass up the chance to align themselves with this kind of success, not after overseeing such a lengthy period of underperformance.

"I kept talking to the public relations people, trying to get either Joel or Bryan on the phone for a 10 or 15-minute interview before the game," Romano says. "They wouldn't do it.

"To me it seemed a little odd; this was a great moment for them, the Buccaneers were in the Super Bowl, in Tampa. They should have been enjoying the popularity of that. And they still wouldn’t do an interview.

"I have a little bit of respect for that, actually. They're not just going to speak to the media when things are going well. This is who they are and they really haven't changed over the last 26 years."

The Bucs won the Super Bowl - their first triumph since 2002. Even then, the Glazers could not be coaxed into the spotlight for anything more than a few minutes. This, as Romano explains, is just who they are: content to keep a low-profile, even when times are good.

Manchester United fans should not take it personally. In 16 years as owners at Old Trafford, the Glazers have gone out of their way to avoid contact with supporters. It is not, though, treatment reserved only for them, as their time in charge in Tampa highlights.

Beyond Raymond James Stadium, the Bucs' home, the Glazer name is visible throughout the Tampa area, even if the family members choose not to be. The Glazer Children's Museum can be found in the downtown area of the city. The family donates to foundations and local medical facilities which also carry their name.

"In some ways they are very good corporate citizens," Romano adds. "They’re just sort of mysterious in the way they go about things."

The recent protests in Manchester serve as a reminder - if needed - that the Glazers remain very much detested by fans of their other sports team. The scenes which saw the Premier League game with Liverpool postponed in early May evoked memories of 2005, and the hostile reaction to the news they had completed their buyout of United - instantly heaping huge debts onto the club.

The Glazer brothers, Joel, Avi and Bryan, had been forced to leave Old Trafford in a police riot van on their first visit after the takeover. Weeks earlier, an effigy of their father, Malcolm, had been strung up on railings outside the stadium and set alight. It was all in stark contrast to the way in which they had acquired control of the Bucs, a decade earlier.

Under previous owner Hugh Culverhouse, the Bucs had struggled. When he died in 1994 and the team was put up for sale, there was a genuine possibility that a new owner may choose to move them away from Tampa. The Glazers made their move, and it quickly became clear they had no intentions of uprooting the team.

"The team was very, very unsuccessful back then, basically the laughing stock of the NFL," Romano recalls. "There was a chance that another owner was going to come in and take them to Baltimore.

"When the Glazers bought the team and said they were going to keep them in Tampa, they were very well received by everyone in the area."

The Glazer ownership saw a dramatic turnaround in fortunes for the team. After initially struggling under newly appointed Tony Dungy, the Bucs improved, reaching the playoffs for the first time since the early 1980s. After Dungy was fired in 2001, they won a first Super Bowl under Jon Gruden the following year.

"Tampa's a weird city," says Bucs fan, Derek Fournier, founder of the now-retired What The Buc podcast. "We're like the city no-one gives a shit about. But there's a lot of people here and we didn't want to see the team go to Baltimore. We were just excited that they came in and wanted to spend money on the team to begin with.

"To go from that to then winning the Super Bowl, that was the culmination of Malcolm’s dream."

Glazer popularity amongst Bucs fans dwindled in the years following that first Super Bowl triumph. Staying on top and building dynasties, Fournier points out, is far from straightforward in the NFL. That the team's demise coincided with their owners' purchase of United saw some suggest the family's acquisition of the Premier League club was taking its toll on the Bucs.

"There was absolutely a feeling in the fanbase that them owning United was holding them back from investing in the team," Fournier says. "What happens when you've seen your team climb to the top and are then unable to do anything? You start blaming up the tree. You start with the quarterback, then it’s the coach, the offensive coordinator. Eventually, you get to the ownership, who start getting blamed for not spending any money.

"If you look, though, we spent plenty of money. We just sucked. We made bad decisions but the Glazers definitely spent money."

Any frustration with the owners never manifested itself in the form of any protest akin to those seen in Manchester. Instead, as the team underperformed, the fans chose simply to stay away - something which was ultimately of no concern to the Glazers.

"The reality is that in NFL, most money is not made by the fans in the stadium," Fournier says. "It’s made from the television contracts. Fans in the stadium, fans not in the stadium, it doesn't matter. It’s just optics."

It's hard not to draw parallels between that outlook and the Glazer support of the doomed European Super League proposal. Had the plans not been met with such fierce opposition, those in charge of the clubs pushing for the breakaway league would have had full control of the lucrative TV deals which would have followed. And when you see the world in dollar signs, why should Old Trafford selling out every home game be of concern?

Ultimately, though, it's also difficult to make too many comparisons between the Glazer ownership of their two sports teams. Not only do the circumstances in which they assumed control of both organisations differ greatly, so do the ideologies and values held by fans on opposite sides of the Atlantic.

In England, there's still a feeling that the supporters are the true custodians of their clubs, irrespective of who the owner is. Though there are exceptions, in America there is more of an acceptance that owners call all of the shots. And if the fans don't like it, well, the team can just go somewhere else.

In Tampa, attitudes towards the Glazers have mellowed with another Super Bowl victory. Success - or lack of it - has a habit of shaping how owners are perceived by a fanbase, Fournier says. It's this point that is at the core of accusations levelled at United fans on numerous occasions in the past 16 years. Even if it doesn't explain, for example, the scale of the 2010 protests, when United were well placed for a domestic and continental double, many are under the impression the animosity towards the Glazers is tied only to a period of on-field mediocrity.

Romano wrote an article on the recent protests in Manchester, but the ongoing tension between United fans and their club's owners is of little concern for many in Florida.

"I think people are aware of it," he acknowledges. "I just don’t think it’s a big issue for a lot of people around here. I don’t think it’s more than a passing interest that the Glazers are having trouble. Most people’s concern is whether Manchester United is costing the Bucs any money. That’s their only interest."

"I think the moment the United protest probably lost some support over here - if it had any, in the first place - was when they were burning an effigy," Fournier adds.

"I am a huge proponent of speaking your mind. You don't like the owner, I get it, but burning an effigy? That's just stupid. I think it got a little bit vitriolic and when that happened, those of us who were paying attention felt it had gone too far."

Some elements of United fans' latest protests have not been without criticism. They have, though, brought about change - if only in a small way. Joel Glazer will virtually attend the Fans’ Forum meeting on Friday, June 4.

This will be the first time a member of the family has attended any such meeting. Given the way in which they have made a point of shunning all previous requests for communication, the significance should not be overlooked, even if it is well beyond the point where bridges can be built.

"They are pretty sharp guys," Romano says. "But they have made some public relations mistakes. They may have misinterpreted how they were going to be perceived over there, just as they misinterpreted the Super League idea."