LONDON New sponsorship deals and a successful season on the pitch will help English Premier League football champions Manchester United meet this year's financial goals, the club said on Thursday.
United, who claim to have more than 650 million followers worldwide, have cashed in on their fame by agreeing sponsorship deals with companies ranging from U.S. car maker General Motors to Japanese marine engineering company Yanmar.
That commercial appeal has just helped United win the Premier League for the 13th time since it was launched in 1992, topping last year's champions and local rivals Manchester City, who are bankrolled by cash from Abu Dhabi.
Some United fans have not forgiven the American Glazer family for loading the club with debt when they bought it for 790 million pounds in 2005.
However, criticism has become more muted after United signed prolific Dutch striker Robin van Persie from rivals Arsenal last August. His goals have helped the team to recover after ending without a trophy in 2012.
"Our top priority is strengthening the squad to ensure we are best positioned for successful runs in all the major competitions next season," Executive Vice-Chairman Ed Woodward said on a conference call with financial analysts.
"At the same time, we are focused on accelerating the pace of our commercial expansion," Woodward added, saying the club had identified as many as 94 business sectors where they could potentially seek sponsors.
Woodward, a former investment banker, will work with veteran United manager Alex Ferguson on hiring new players when current Chief Executive David Gill steps down this summer.
United had a mix of youth and experience and the squad would not need a major overhaul, he said. The champions have already signed 20-year-old England winger Wilfried Zaha from second-tier Crystal Palace.
United based its revenue and profit targets for its financial year on reaching the last eight of the lucrative European Champions League, though the club went out a round earlier to Real Madrid. But Woodward said its goals would still be achieved.
Revenue in the club's fiscal third quarter through March rose almost 30 percent to 91.7 million pounds ($142.6 million), with the commercial sector which includes sponsorship showing the strongest growth. Profit before charges such as interest and tax was ahead of forecasts at 25 million.
For the year to June, United forecasts revenue of between 350 million pounds and 360 million, and underlying profit, referred to as EBITDA, of 107 to 110 million.
Shares were up 1.3 percent at $18.65 on Thursday, well above their flotation price of $14.
($1 = 0.6430 British pounds)
(Editing by Rosalba O'Brien and David Holmes)