Are Everton following a takeover trend?
We are often blinded by the pretence that the Premier League is the jewel in the ‘English’ sporting crown, despite foreign hands dominating our leading sporting competition. Overseas investors own the majority of top-flight clubs, with more and more clubs seeking assistance from abroad to compete. Just this month Crystal Palace ceded 36% of their shares to a pair of American investors in order to raise vital funds, a move that pushes them ever closer to foreign ownership.
Everton look set to become the next club to dabble with global investors, with potential discussions already being mooted with a consortium seeking to acquire the club in a reported £200m deal. The BBC report that the potential deal is being led by former San Diego Padres owner John Jay Moores alongside entrepreneur Charles Noell, with a period of exclusivity purportedly being granted to assess the company accounts during January. Everton have signed a non-disclosure agreement with the American-led consortium, but Roberto Martinez did have the following to say in a recent Guardian interview:
“I don’t think there’s anything to comment about. It’s not something for me to go into detail.”
“We all know what a fantastic chairman we have and our board will always look after the best interests of our football club going forward. We have a fantastic squad of young talent and that reflects the support in the boardroom. The chairman will always look for the best for Everton. The football club is in the best possible hands.”
It would be with a heavy heart that the hugely popular Bill Kenwright ever relinquishes his control, but for Everton to compete at the top-level it has become a necessity. Finding the right potential investors that can both fulfill the club’s ambitions whilst paying respect to the history of the club will now be an elusive task. Few have both the money and the appropriate mind-set, and the difficulties encountered by the likes of Notts County and Leeds United illustrate the point. Limiting your search to just UK investors simply adds another barrier to this process; a move into the realm of global private equity at least provides a catch-all approach and widens the search.
So why is there such interest from abroad?
Investment in the Premier League is as much about prestige as it is profit. The league is the most attractive domestic club competition in world sport, broadcast across 212 territories by 80 broadcaster globally with an estimated TV audience of 4.7bn (premierleague.com). There are many factors behind the draw: sociable non-conflicting kick-off times, packed and atmospheric stadia, competition far beyond rival leagues and a sporting history that should never be understated.
The degree of competition in the EPL is thanks in part to the equitable sharing of TV rights money. In the 2014/15 season Chelsea were paid around £99m for broadcast rights, with bottom side QPR receiving in the region of £65m for their troubles. This may appear to represent something of a gulf, but when you compare to La Liga the distribution seems remarkably fair. In the 2014/15 season Real Madrid and Barcelona received 45% of the total TV rights pool, with a first to last ratio of 11 to 1 across the division. With most of the top clubs already possessing wealthy backers, the potential profitability of the middle to lower end clubs is important. Everton fall into this bracket, and for any investor looking across Europe’s top leagues this remains an important consideration.
American investment has become particularly in vogue; a developing domestic league and cross-fertilisation of sports underpins this trend. Whilst the Premier League is growing in the states, so does the appeal of the MLS and vice versa. According to an ESPN poll in 2014, ‘soccer’ now ranks as the number two sport behind pro football among 12-17 year olds, a statistic that is only likely to heighten the increasing popularity of this sport in the US.
In all, Everton are following a trend, and why not? Investment has led many of the club’s rivals on the path to success and jumping on the bandwagon appears to be nothing less than a no-brainer for the blue half of Merseyside.