Gillett, Hicks ink deal for English soccer club
Vail CO, Colorado
LONDON ” First it was Manchester United. Then Aston Villa. And now Liverpool, with a record 18 English championships, also is about to come under American ownership.
Liverpool chairman David Moores said Tuesday he will sell his 51 percent stake in the storied club to George Gillett Jr., owner of the Montreal Canadiens and Vail resident, and Tom Hicks, who owns the Texas Rangers and the Dallas Stars. Moores recommended other shareholders do the same.
The $430.8 million offer from Gillett and Hicks includes an agreement to pay off about $89 million of club debt and pledges to build and finance a 60,000-seat stadium.
“I believe this is a great step forward for Liverpool, its shareholders and its fans,” said Moores, whose family has owned the club for decades.
“This club is my passion and forms a huge part of my life. After much careful consideration, I have agreed to sell my shares to assist in securing the investment needed for the new stadium and for the playing squad.”
Broadcaster ITV said it also would sell its 9.9 percent stake, and Gillett and Hicks said they had received acceptances from 62.2 percent of Liverpool’s shareholders under the deal that values shares at $9,800 each.
The American businessmen need to acquire 90 percent of the shares through Kop Football Ltd., the British company they formed to launch the bid, before they can assume full control. The Kop is the name given to the section where hardcore fans sit in stadiums such as Anfield, where Liverpool now plays.
“This is truly the largest sport in the world, the most important sport in the world, and this is the most important club in the most important sport in the world,” Gillett said at a news conference in Liverpool. “And what a privilege we have to be associated with it.”
If Gillett and Hicks succeed in taking full control, Liverpool would become the third American-owned Premier League club. Malcolm Glazer, who owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, won control of Manchester United in 2005, while Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner took over Aston Villa in September.
Gillett stressed that the proposed takeover differs from that of Manchester United by Glazer, who borrowed heavily against future earnings to fund his purchase.
“Owning this great franchise is special,” Gillett said. “We want to add to that luster, not detract from that luster.”
The pair would be co-chairmen of the club, with a son from each man’s family on the board. Rick Parry will stay as chief executive and Moores, who has been chairman since 1991, will become lifetime president.
“When I looked into this over the past month, I was awe-struck with the history and the true passion of the fans compared to other sports I am involved with,” Hicks said in an interview on Liverpool’s Web site.
Liverpool said the proposed takeover would be a “great step forward” for a club that has been European champion five times ” more than any other English team ” but last won the league in 1990.
“I feel very excited, it has been a long process,” Parry said. “It is about three years since we started, so I’m very excited to be bringing it to a conclusion.”
The deal was announced a week after a Dubai-based consortium pulled out of a proposed takeover when it discovered Liverpool was listening to the rival bid.
A solo bid from Gillett was turned down in November in favor of the approach from Dubai International Capital, owned by the ruler of Dubai, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum. Gillett renewed his overtures after persuading Hicks to join him when the pair talked at the NHL All-Star game Jan. 24 in Dallas.
“When you sit in our little country you get an unusual perspective, and probably an incorrect one, because we think our sports are pretty popular,” Gillett said. “Then you come over here and see the tribal aspects of the fans and their affection and support for the team and realize it’s a game which is watched by billions.”
Liverpool received clearance from the Liverpool City Council in September to build a new 60,000-seat stadium, moving it closer to moving from the 45,000-capacity Anfield it has used since 1892.
The club said Gillett and Hicks would finance the move, without giving financial details.
Gillett said he expects work on a new stadium to begin within two months and that the club may follow Arsenal, Bolton and Wigan in allowing a sponsor to name the stadium.
“If the naming rights are worth one great player a year in transfer spending, we will certainly look at that as a serious option,” he said.
Four more of the Premier League’s 20 clubs have foreign ownership ” most notably Chelsea, which is bankrolled by Russian oil billionaire Roman Abramovich and has won the league title the past two seasons.
Harrods owner Mohamed Al Fayed of Egypt bought Fulham nine years ago, Russian businessman Alexandre Gaydamak took control of Portsmouth in July and Iceland’s Eggert Magnusson bought West Ham in November.
Gilette, the 68-year-old owner of Booth Creek Management Corp., has a checkered history in sports management and business.
In 1992, bankruptcy cost him the Vail ski resort, which he nurtured after buying it in 1985, after the junk bond collapse hurt businessmen who had raised money by borrowing from investors at high interest rates.
Gillett got his break in the mid-1960s when as a 27-year-old, he phoned NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle to ask about ownership opportunities. Believing he was from the Gillette razor empire, Rozelle gave him a lead on the American Football League expansion franchise Miami Dolphins.
He went on to buy a 22-per-cent share but sold his interest before the team made history in 1972 with a perfect season and won the Super Bowl, the Dolphins’ first of two successive championships.
He bought the bankrupt Harlem Globetrotters from the estate of team founder Abe Saperstein in 1967 before selling it nine years later.
Gillett’s holding company is operated from Vail with the help of three of his four sons – Geordie, Alex and Foster. The latter’s twin, Andrew, is the only son not in the family business.
The Canadian Press contributed to this report