Club Takeovers

Published 17 January 2011 By: Daniel Geey

High profile takeovers of Premier League (PL) football clubs have become common place in recent times. Current Chelsea owner like Roman Abramovich is almost as recognisable as some of his star players. Many investors have seen the vast revenues that can be generated from broadcasting money, Champions League success, merchandising and ticket sales. Since 2005 11 current PL clubs have changed ownership as illustrated by the below table.

One of the most notable takeovers in recent years occurred in July 2003 when Chelsea was sold to Roman Abramovich for around £140m. It has been reported that Mr Abramovich has since poured over £600m into Chelsea in the form of transfer fees and wages. Within three years Chelsea had invested heavily in Shevchenko (£30m) Essien (£24m) Drogba (£24m) Wright-Phillips (£21m) Carvalho (£19m) Mutu (£19m) Duff (£17m) Veron (£16m) and Crespo (£16m). Chelsea subsequently won the PL title in 2004-05 and 2005-06 and FA Cup in 2007 and 2009. Interestingly Ken Bates, who sold Chelsea to Abramovich considered that:

"if this is the start of the super-rich invaders it'll be very, very interesting to see how the fans react to it."

No doubt Chelsea fans have been more than happy with their trophy collection and mega signings since the beginning of the Abramovich era. Other football takeovers in the PL have been more controversial. One example is Manchester United. Having won the PL championship for the last three years and Champions League winners in the 2008-9 season, United’s debt is over £700m after the Glazer family takeover back in 2005. In the three years since the takeover, interest payments of around £86m have been paid to various investment banks and hedge funds who loaned the Glazer family part of the money needed to purchase Manchester United. The most recent accounts show that if Ronaldo had not been sold to Real Madrid for £80m, the club would have made a loss of over £30m for the second consecutive year. The award for the largest ever annual loss in the PL however goes to Manchester City with an annual loss of £92.6m in the year since owner Sheikh Mansour bought the club. 

Club

Date of Most Recent Takeover

Who Currently Owns the Club

Aston Villa

August 2006

Randy Lerner

Birmingham

November 2009

Carson Yeung

Chelsea

July 2003

Roman Abramovich

Hull

June 2007

Russell Bartlett

Liverpool

March 2007

George Gillet and Tom Hicks

Manchester City

September 2008

Sheikh Mansour

Manchester United

July 2005

Glazer Family

Portsmouth

October 2009

Suleiman Al-Fahim

Sunderland

May 2009

Ellis Short

Stoke

May 2006

Peter Coates

West Ham

January 2010

David Gold and David Sullivan

Wolves

August 2007

Steve Morgan


The reason why it is important to illustrate the various debts and losses that PL clubs have posted is because UEFA (European football's governing body) is aiming to introduce a financial fair play regulation across UEFA's membership. Its president Michel Platini believes that clubs should not be able to repeatedly spend more than their generated revenues and that a rich benefactor like Abramovich or Sheikh Mansour should not ne able to subsidise a club spending spree. Any proposed rule changes are rumoured to be put in place in time for the 2012-13 season. The consequence of the introduction of such a rule would mean that any club wishing to participate in the lucrative Champions League or Europa League would have to adhere to strict UEFA guidelines on a number of defined financial targets. 

Premier League Club Ownership Rules

An important consideration for anyone wishing to buy a PL involves satisfying various PL ownership regulations. In 2004, the PL introduced the fit and proper person test (FPPT). This was to ensure, among other things, that an owner, significant shareholder or a director of a PL club has: not been found guilty of a number of criminal offences; no involvement in the day to day running of any other PL or Football League club; or not been involved with a number of insolvent companies. 

Such criminal offences include any dishonesty offence and, for example, ticket touting. A relatively new rule introduced for the 2009/10 season is that if an owner, significant shareholder or director of a PL club is not prohibited from entering the United Kingdom, they will not be able to become involved in a PL club. 

An owner, significant shareholder or director of a PL club has to sign a FPPT declaration before they purchase a PL club and then submit a new declaration each season or where a change of circumstances occurs.

The previous ownership of Manchester City illustrates one example of the FPPT in practice. Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Thai Prime Minister, courted controversy in 2007 when he purchased Manchester City. Various human rights groups protested about his human rights record during his time as Thai Prime Minister and stated that he should be barred from owning a PL club. 

The Thai government that deposed him in September 2006 initiated a number of investigations into Mr Shinawatra’s affairs. Thai prosecutors froze many of Mr Shinawatra’s domestic assets. One allegation, involving a land purchase by his wife from a government agency resulted in Mr Shinawatra’s wife being found guilty of tax evasion. The result of this meant that as Mr Shinawatra no longer fulfilled the FPPT criteria. Mr Shinawatra had by this stage already sold his stake in Manchester City.

PL Chief executive Richard Scudamore was recently questioned on the application of the FPPT to the ex-Manchester City owner, Mr Shinawatra. Whilst some believed Mr Shinawatra should not have been allowed to buy Manchester City in the first place, Mr Scudamore believed that the FPPT did its job by forcing him to sell his shareholding in Manchester City to Sheikh Mansour, because he realised that he would soon be in breach of the FPPT. 

“once his wife was convicted, our rules would define her as an associate of his and… that would have caught him…the fact he sold the club so quickly was because of the application of our rule. He knew that his wife and him were not going to comply [with the FPPT]. So in effect, the 'Fit and Proper Persons' test worked. "

The ENIC Case and multiple club ownership

As stated above the FPPT also ensures that no owner, significant shareholder or director of a PL club can have an ownership stake in another PL or Football League club. There are also additional UEFA rules relating to shareholdings in two or more clubs competing in a UEFA sanctioned club competition (i.e. the Champions League or the Europa League). These additional rules, in part, occurred as a result of the ENIC case which is described below.

The case involved one company (ENIC), which had a variety of shareholdings in several clubs competing in UEFA competitions in a single season. In 1998, a case arose because of two clubs that ENIC owned (Slavia Prague and AEK Athens) competing in the same UEFA Cup competition. UEFA had introduced a rule prohibiting one company owning or controlling two or more clubs competing in the same competition. UEFA’s justification was that matches between two commonly owned clubs may be decided in the boardroom rather than the football pitch. This could happen if, for example, in the group stages of a UEFA competition Slavia Prague needed to win a match against AEK Athens, to qualify for the next round. If AEK Athens were not in a position to qualify for the next stage, and then fielded a weaker team (allowing Slavia Prague to win), many may argue that such conduct (by ENIC) would be unsporting and improper. 

As a result of this case, additional UEFA regulations were drafted to ensure that the above scenario could not occur. Current UEFA regulations do not prohibit one company owning two clubs in Europe, but do prohibit two clubs that are owned by the same company playing in the same UEFA club competition.

Opinion and Conclusion

From the above descriptions, it is possible to show the rules and regulations in place, specifically in the PL, that any potential owner, shareholder or director would have to adhere to. It is therefore vitally important that any person wishing to become involved in a PL club is aware of the domestic and international laws in place. For example, a person wishing to buy shares in a PL football club who has already been involved in a number company insolvencies is unlikely to pass the PL FPPT. Should a person buy a PL club but still fail the PL FPPT, the PL has the power to suspend the PL club from the competition. Similarly, UEFA regulations on multiple club ownership are important because if the owner of an Italian team, which qualifies for the Champions League, also owns an English team which also qualifies for the Champions League, UEFA rules prohibit both teams playing in the same competition. Football investors should be wary of investing in more than one European club.

Biography

Daniel Geey works for London law firm Field Fisher Waterhouse LLP (FFW). FFW has a dedicated sports group that can assist in any type of sporting issue. FFW has expertise in advising on TV and media rights, sponsorship and sports marketing issues, brand protection, betting and gaming, merchandising, ticketing, endorsement, litigation plus the acquisition and funding of sports businesses and stadium development. Contact him at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Additionally, Daniel has a personal website called www.danielgeey.com where you can access all the football law articles Daniel has ever written, free of charge.

Author

Daniel Geey

Daniel Geey

Daniel is a Partner in the Sport Group.

Daniel’s practice focuses on helping clients in the sports sector, including rights holders, leagues, governing bodies, clubs, agencies, athletes, sports technology companies, broadcasters and financial institutions.

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