In spring, Newcastle owner Mike Ashley almost achieved what he had been waiting 13 years for. A group of investors led by English businesswoman Amanda Staveley (she brought the sheikhs to Man City) came up with an offer of £ 300 million, which Ashley was completely satisfied with.
But the deal eventually fell through. Let Bookmaker Ratings briefly recall the main points:
• The main investor had to be Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF). It would own 80% of Newcastle: the head of PIF, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, would lead the club, and the prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, the ruler of the country and president of PIF, would be seen as the main beneficiary and the real owner of the club.
• The Premier League delayed approving of the deal and investors withdrew the offer. There are several reasons why the Premier League delayed the process: several clubs opposed (it is known that the official position was expressed by Liverpool and Tottenham), human rights activists would be dissatisfied with the approval (the ruler of Saudi Arabia is accused of violating human rights and is even called the organizer of the murder of the journalist in 2018).
But the main reason is official piracy in Saudi Arabia, where the content of the Premier League is openly stolen. The rights in the Middle East are owned by the Qatar media giant beIN Sports. But Saudi Arabia has conflicted with Qatar since 2017, and beIN is banned in the country. The Saudis invented the BeoutQ set-top boxes. With the help of these devices, the signal of beIN and other channels is simply stolen and resold.
BeIN is one of the largest partners of the Premier League. The Qataris were immediately opposed to the Saudis in Newcastle, it came to a direct threat to break the contract and not pay the money.
The Premier League gasped when the Saudis themselves withdrew the offer (and incidentally lost a £ 17m deposit). Newcastle is unhappy too. For the first time, fans and Mike Ashley are on the same side. Everyone wants the club to change ownership.
Ashley still believes in the deal. Newcastle is suing the league and defiantly opposing a contract with beIN.
• Newcastle issued an official statement in September accusing the league of rejecting the takeover: “The club and its owners do not agree that Premier League Chief Executive Richard Masters and the Premier League have acted appropriately in this situation. The club will consider all the relevant options available to us”.
• In October, Newcastle fans were the first to oppose the Premier League and Broadcasters initiative, when some of the matches that are not shown on the paid sports channels Sky Sports, BT Sport and Amazon Prime, was decided to sell separately – for £ 14.95 each. Newcastle fans, instead of watching the match with Manchester United, raised £ 20,000 for those in need. Fans of other clubs supported and launched a big boycott of pay-per-view, which turned into a reputational disaster for the Premier League.
• The club confirmed in November that it had started a trial against the Premier League over a failed takeover by the Saudis. Moreover, Newcastle said it was not going to talk about the trial because of the confidentiality clause, but the league itself leaked the information in a letter to fans.
Therefore, the club decided to ignore the confidentiality clause, which was another direct challenge to the league. “The club understands that this will be a serious concern for the fans and therefore believes that in light of the information disclosed by the Premier League, it has no choice but to respond to the fans”, Newcastle said, “The club does not comment on the course of the proceedings, but can confirm that it initiated the arbitration process against the Premier League.”
• The growing gap between the Premier League and one of its clubs became even more apparent in December when the league signed a new three-year deal with beIN Sports for exclusive rights in the Middle East and North Africa region.
Saudi Arabia was not excluded from the package, even though beIN is blocked in this country. It was assumed that some legitimate broadcaster from Saudi Arabia could participate in the auction, which would receive the rights in the country. But the Premier League has shown that it is completely on the side of beIN (cooperating since 2013) on the copyright issue.
The new agreement is estimated from 2022 to 2025 and will bring to the club about £ 368 million. About the same as beIN paid for the current 3-year package. This is a very important deal at a time when the pandemic closed the stadiums and Ligue 1 collapsed a TV contract for almost a billion euros. The Qataris abandoned the Bundesliga and Serie A but re-signed with the Premier League on the same terms, which speaks of the profitability of the deal.
But Newcastle was ok with that. They were the only club to vote against the contract. The Athletic named the reasons:
• Mike Ashley still hopes to revive the deal with the Saudis. Newcastle and potential buyers were deeply unhappy that beIN had publicly intervened in the takeover saga. The broadcaster was putting pressure on the Premier League, and some even accused the Qataris of lobbying for the decision through other clubs and discussing this issue with the league’s leadership personally. Therefore, voting against the Qatari media giant makes pragmatic sense.
• Of course, this is a symbolic gesture. The club probably knew their protest would not be effective. Still, few people will dare to abandon the deal in the current conditions, which the majority considers beneficial. Newcastle itself was severely affected by the pandemic. It is estimated that its annual income in 2020 fell by 50 million pounds, so it would be wise to vote on the deal.
But in fact, the TV contract was already signed, so Newcastle did not lose anything and at the same time demonstratively showed a protest. The Premier League loves to declare unanimity on such issues, and Ashley’s club deprived them of this opportunity.
It looks like the war between the club and the league will continue as long as the club is owned by Mike Ashley.