Manchester United’s owners, the Glazer family, look likely to have to drop their asking price of £6bn to £8bn for the Premier League football club.
The Glazers, who also own NFL franchise the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, announced they were ready to sell United after 17 years in charge earlier this week.
The Americans fired the starting gun on what they hope will be a competitive sale process after several months of speculation that they were open to selling shares.
Like Liverpool’s owners, Fenway Sports Group, the Glazers have been tempted to cash in their investment by the unexpectedly high price fetched by Chelsea.
Todd Boehly’s consortium paid £2.5bn for the Blues this summer after the UK’s sanctioning of Roman Abramovich forced the Russian oligarch to sell.
United’s owners have hired the same US-based investment bank, the Raine Group, which handled the bidding process for Chelsea.
But industry sources believe any deal is unlikely to reach the £6bn-£8bn that the Glazers are said to be seeking for an asset they bought in a controversial £790m takeover in 2005.
Estimates range from £3bn to £5bn for a club whose market capitalisation was around £2.3bn on Tuesday, despite the share price climbing on the sale news. They also have debts of £500m.
Current macroeconomic conditions such as higher interest rates mean that potential buyers are being more cautious and preferring to wait, sources said.
The already shallow pool of possible suitors could be further reduced by the fact that United are a public company, listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
That means any would-be buyer will have to go public with their offer and their intentions, a degree of scrutiny some investors may not accept, another source said.
“It is not a coincidence that the Glazer family have formally announced a process beginning to sell Manchester United following both the Chelsea sale and the recent announcement from Fenway Sports Group,” said Ben Peppi, head of sports services at JMW Solicitors.
“A benchmark has been set by Todd Boehly’s recent purchase of Chelsea and owners across the top six may now be looking to see how much their asset is worth.
“The Raine Group will have a lengthy list and knowledge of interested parties – some of which may have either lost in the bidding process for Chelsea or have made their interest known to Liverpool – and what prospective new owners may be looking for as part of any club acquisition at this level.
“Manchester United could fetch up to £5bn depending on the level of interest and whether a bidding war ensues.”
Another US buyer remains the most likely solution for the Glazers, due to the favourable exchange rate and recent trend of American investors, such as Boehly, in European football.
British chemicals billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe, who failed with a bid for Chelsea, said in August that he would be interested in buying United.
Economist and one-time United bidder Lord Jim O’Neill told the BBC he was “not sure it will be that much” when asked about a possible £4bn sale price.