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United tells investors season is 'disappointing'

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Manchester United's Juan Mata wipes his hair as Fulham players celebrate their first goal, scored by Steve Sidwell, during their English Premier League soccer match at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Sunday Feb. 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

LONDON (AP) — Manchester United vice chairman Ed Woodward acknowledged to investors it is enduring a "disappointing" season, but stressed on Wednesday that the commercial side of the club continues to thrive.

Champions of the English Premier League last season, David Moyes' side is seventh in the standings, nine points from the crucial fourth Champions League place during a difficult first season since Alex Ferguson's retirement.

Off the pitch, though, the success achieved during Ferguson's 26 trophy-filled years ensures the New York-listed club continues to rake in cash.

In the last six months of 2013, commercial revenue soared 30 percent to 102.2 million pounds ($168 million) as six global sponsorship deals kicked in. Overall turnover rose by 19 percent to a record 221.4 million pounds ($364 million) during the period, but the bottom line showed that net profit plummeted 49 percent to 18.7 million pounds ($31 million).

"We once again achieved a record revenue quarter with strong contributions from our commercial and broadcasting businesses despite the current league position, which everyone from the team manager down has acknowledged is disappointing," Woodward said.

"We continue to see meaningful opportunities to grow our commercial business and the popularity of football on TV is leading to continued broadcasting revenue growth — all of which bodes well for the long-term stability and financial strength of our business."

But failure to qualify for the lucrative Champions League next season would be a big blow to the club's prestige, and revenue stream.

The team is struggling in the Premier League it won by 11 points in May despite wages leaping 17 percent to 51.6 million pounds ($85 million) in the quarter "primarily due to the impact of player acquisitions and renegotiated player contracts," United said.

What continues to irritate some fans is the debt that didn't exist before the Glazer family bought the club in 2005. But the debt has dropped 3 percent year-on-year to 356.6 million pounds ($590 million), far down from a high of 716.5 million pounds (then $1.1 billion) in 2008-09.

The cash balance on Dec. 31 was up to 72.1 million pounds ($119 million) before Spain midfielder Juan Mata joined from Chelsea for a club-record 37.1 million pounds (then $61 million) last month.

"We are ... very pleased to have added a world-class player in Juan Mata to our squad, who has already made a positive impact," Woodward said.


Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris