Southampton have become the last English Premier League side to change hands, with Serbian media mogul Dragan Šolak agreeing to a buyout deal that values the club up to £ 250million.
Šolak, founder and chairman of European telecommunications and media company United Group, has acquired an 80 percent stake in the club, its investment vehicle, Sport Republic, noted Tuesday.
The deal gives the club an enterprise value of £ 200-250million, including debt, according to people with knowledge of the matter. Sky News first reported the deal.
Šolak acquires the stake of Chinese real estate tycoon Gao Jisheng, who has controlled the club since 2017. Gao’s decision to get rid of his stake continues the trend of Chinese owners to sell European clubs and shows how the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the buyout activity in the Premier League.
The deal follows the acquisition of Newcastle United for £ 305million by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund and Czech tycoon Daniel Kretinsky’s investment in West Ham United late last year.
Šolak will pay £ 100million for the 80 percent stake in Southampton, with Katharina Liebherr keep the remaining 20 percent, according to people familiar with the matter.
Henrik Kraft, Chairman of Sport Republic and former partner of private equity firm KKR, said: “Although Southampton is Sport Republic’s first acquisition, we expect further investments to follow over the next few years. Our ambition is to build a portfolio of holdings with strong influence in football clubs and other sporting assets around the world.
United Group, majority owned by private equity firm BC Partners since March 2019, has the media rights to broadcast the Premier League in most of the Balkans, including Serbia, this season.
State rival Telekom Srbija is ready to take on the rights of 2022/23 in a six-season contract, however. Šolak is Chairman of the Advisory Board of United Group.
Southampton, which plays its home games in the 32,384-seat St Mary’s Stadium in the south of England, is in 14th place in the Premier League. There are 20 clubs in the competition.
The team have played in the country’s top division since being promoted to 2012, but have never won the Premier League title. He beat Manchester United in the 1976 FA Cup final.
Companies House filings showed Southampton’s pre-tax loss widened to almost £ 76million in the 2019/20 season, from £ 41million the year before, as the revenue fell to £ 126million from £ 144million, coinciding with the cancellation of matches due to the pandemic.
Southampton is one of several clubs to have borrowed funds from MSD Partners, a football lender linked to IT billionaire Michael Dell, through the holding company St Mary’s Football Group. The £ 78.8million loan had already been disclosed in his accounts. MSD has also loaned to Burnley and West Ham, two other clubs where high stakes have recently changed hands.
Additional reporting by Marton Dunai