Not Such a Surprise Move for Murdoch; Rupert Murdoch, as Expected, Is Carrying His Empire Forward into Football, Says Chief Feature Writer Dennis Ellam

Article excerpt

Those of us who are not fans might take a different, and less hysterical, view of Mr Rupert Murdoch's purchase of Manchester United, a popular football club.

It might be our opinion that he has merely followed his instinct, worked out the sums, and behaved exactly as a successful businessman should - that is, he has spied a commercial opportunity, and he has seized it.

He will probably make an enormous success of the enterprise.

If football fans believed that their particular form of mass entertainment was forever to be kept pure from such commercial pressures, and protected from the attention of commercial predators such as Mr Murdoch, then they are indeed bigger mugs than we n on-fans took them for.

The deal is doubly significant, all the same. It sets a fresh direction for the sport in this country in the next decade, there is no doubt, and just as surely it lays a new foundation for the Murdoch Empire, as it is prepared for the time when it will h ave to function and develop without its founder and figurehead.

Automatically, the Manchester United takeover is referred to as Murdoch's deal, and in the popular imagination the gnarled old Aussie is seated at the negotiating table in person, that worried brow furrowing ever more deeply as figures are pushed to and fro.

In reality, needless to say, he has never set a foot near to Old Trafford.

The buy-out was conducted by BSkyB's chief executive Mark Booth, an American who has learned quickly all there is to know about English soccer, and then it was steered to a conclusion by executives who we must now regard as the next generation of Murdoch ites. They include his own daughter - Elisabeth Murdoch, who at 29 is the managing director of BSkyB and who, at least until this week, was unsure about her future role in the Empire.

She is said to have inherited Daddy's ruthlessness.

Given a Californian TV station to run, with which she might learn the rudiments of effective management, she made 18 of the 74 staff redundant and circulated the rest with a warning that anyone responsible for three or more mistakes during a newscast wou ld be sacked.

Even so, she had complained of feeling overshadowed by brother Lachlan, 26, who started his business career as general manager of News Corporation's Queensland Newspapers division and is now in charge of its entire Australian operations.

All along, Lachlan has been favourite to take over the dynasty. This week, Elisabeth has at least served notice that the battle for succession is already under way and that she must be a serious contender.

Even the wayward younger brother James, now 24, famous for dropping out of the Empire, has now returned to it, as a vice-president for music and new media.

Tough and competitive, the sons and daughter of Murdoch have grown up in the manner which he intended for them.

As children they were always obliged to be present at the breakfast table, washed and dressed, by 6am, and earned their pocket money by taking part time jobs.

The lesson was clear, that wealth had to be worked for, and that an empire founded upon wealth would not survive in a rapidly changing world if the inheritors of it were content to sit back and bask in their good luck. …