* 2014-15 profit hit by Champions League absence * European return, sponsor deals to boost 2015-16 profit * Forecasts record profit of 165-175 mln pounds * To pay first dividend since 2012 IPO
LONDON: English soccer club Manchester United expects profit to jump by as much as 46 percent next year thanks to a return to Champions League soccer and a record kit deal and will start paying regular dividends. The 20-times English champions, who have struggled for form since manager Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, said on Thursday it expected adjusted core earnings to be a record 165 million to 175 million pounds ($256 million-$272 million) in 2015-16, above the previous best of 130 million set in 2013-14. The English Premier League club also forecast revenue of 500-510 million pounds which would bring it close to the world record for revenue of about 514 million pounds set by Spain's Real Madrid in 2013-14. "Our record revenue and EBITDA (core earnings) guidance for 2016 reflects the underlying strength of our business and our confidence in its continued growth," United Executive Vice-Chairman Ed Woodward said in a statement. In light of the club's prospects, the board approved a regular quarterly cash dividend, its first since United floated on the New York Stock Exchange in 2012. The club, which is majority owned by the American Glazer family, said shareholders would receive $0.045 per share in the first quarter of 2016 and that figure would be maintained. The club's finances will be boosted this season by a return to Champions League soccer, Europe's top club competition. United failed to qualify for last season's campaign after finishing seventh in the Premier League in 2013-14, the club's worst performance since 1989-90. SPONSORSHIP BOOST A raft of global and regional sponsorship, including a shirt deal with General Motors and a world record 10-year 750 million pound kit deal with Adidas, are also major additions, while increased Premier League TV money will add to future revenue. Despite the commercial success driven by United's global appeal, the club only finished fourth last season under new Dutch coach Louis van Gaal, still short of the success laden years under Ferguson. To compete better, United spent more than 100 million pounds on new players in the summer, including French striker Anthony Martial, and sit third after five games in the league. United said core earnings for the year to June 30 fell 7.8 percent to 119.9 million pounds, as expected, due to the absence of Champions League soccer last season. Lower match day and broadcast sales pushed revenue down 8.8 percent, though the club's corporate appeal continued to increase, with commercial income up 4 percent in the year. Gross debt rose 20.2 percent to 411 million pounds, the club said, adding that a stronger U.S. dollar was a key contributor. In a separate filing, United renewed an option to raise up to $400 million through a share sale if it so wished. Shares in United were little changed in early trade at $18.34 on Thursday, valuing the business at about $3 billion.