* Asia growth seen key for Manchester United
* Premier League champions count on 190 mln fans in Asia
* Club executive mum on possible HK listing
By Elzio Barreto
HONG KONG, June 23 (Reuters) - English Premier League football champions Manchester United Ltd said it expects continued growth in Asia to drive sales of merchandise and revenue from commercial agreements, although the club remained mum on the prospects for an IPO in Hong Kong.
With more than 190 million fans in Asia, out of nearly 300 million around the world, the region had become “very important” to the team, Commercial Director Richard Arnold said on Thursday.
Nineteen times Premier League champions, the club has taken the spotlight in capital markets the past days after a report in Britain’s Sunday Times that owners the Glazer family were considering a Hong Kong initial public offering.
“I’m not here to talk about the capital structure,” Arnold said, declining to comment on speculation about a listing during a press conference to promote United’s Asia Trophy Tour.
Hong Kong has become the venue of choice for global brands such as fashion house Prada SpA , cosmetics maker L’Occitane International and luggage maker Samsonite , seeking top valuations and deep pocketed investors. Still, with recent IPOs underperforming and a record volume of withdrawn offerings in Asia, companies might have to lower their expectations for top-dollar prices.
The Glazer family took Manchester United private following their 790 million pounds ($1.3 billion) takeover in 2005.
United’s turnover in the three months through March firmed 1 percent from a year earlier to 75.2 million pounds, led by a surge in commercial revenue.
In Asia, United has commercial ties with several mobile phone operators, and with Turkish Airlines and Thailand’s Singha Beer.
The club has seen rapid expansion of its Manchester United Cafe Bars in India, and in China, sales of sporting apparel has been an “overwhelming success”, Arnold added.
“Asia is very important for anyone who is a genuine global phenomenon,” he said. “The continued strong growth of this part of the world is important on the world stage and we’re no different in that, with the significant proportion of our fans that come from this part of the world. (Reporting by Elzio Barreto; Editing by Chris Lewis)