Funds and investors stir with 8,000 million the purchase of football clubs in Europe

There was a time when AC Milan was the most important team in Italy and one of the most feared in Europe. It positioned itself as the second most important club in Europe and became the football arm of Silvio Berlusconi's omnipresence in the economic, political and sporting life of Italy. Until, a few years ago, economic problems led the team to stay out of European competitions and navigate in the middle part of the transalpine league. Last year he returned to the European elite and took the league again. In the meantime, an American investment fund has made a millionaire cash with its sale.

A few days ago, the entry of a new owner in the Milanese club has been closed. The third since the Berlusconi family sold it in 2017. It was then that the politician and businessman sold the club to the Chinese investor Yonghong Li. The operation was then closed for 740 million, but problems began to arise the following year, when several investors who had supported the Asian businessman began to demand that he repay the loans. One of these financial supports was the US fund Elliot Management, which had lent 300 million euros.

With the bankruptcy of the Chinese investor, the financial group became the owner of the AC Milan. It is one of the largest investment players in the world, known especially for investing in companies undergoing restructuring or for its activist position in the shareholding of the companies in which it invests. He has been singled out, among other things, for being responsible for Jack Dorsey's departure from Twitter. Now, he has sold the club for 1,200 million euros, a figure significantly higher than the loan he gave to Yonghong Li and the money he had to put in later to balance the entity's accounts.

Behind this purchase is the Redbird group, an investment giant with diverse interests in the world of sports. It is an indirect shareholder, through Fenway, of a portion of Liverpool or the Boston Red Sox in the American baseball league. He is also the owner of Toulouse, a French first division team. The AC Milan acquisition agreement includes other investors such as the owners of the New York Yankees or the investment fund Main Street. This financial group has among its investors the basketball star Lebron James or the rapper Drake, among others.

That of AC Milan has not been the only movement of sale of European football teams that has occurred in the last twelve months. From the end of last summer until now, a dozen operations have been closed that have moved more than 8,400 million euros. Mutual funds, US investors and even Arab sheikhs have moved through a choppy market in recent years, especially due to the effects of the pandemic on club accounts.

A good part of that important economic figure was carried out by Chelsea. The club was the subject of many rumors about its ownership during the spring. Its previous owner, Roman Abramovich, was among the Russian oligarchs sanctioned by the United Kingdom after the invasion of Ukraine. The British government forced its sale and, after half a dozen offers, it was finally the American businessman Todd Boehly, who took over the property for around 5,000 million euros. This agreement extended the shadow of the money of American investors, many of them linked to franchises of the North American professional leagues, in English soccer.

The English league is the most important in the old continent in volume of income and during the last twelve months it has starred in different club sales. A well-known one was at the end of last year, when Newcastle was acquired by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, in one of the most notable movements as 'sportwashing' of authoritarian countries in the Middle East, as Manchester City or PSG used to be. It was estimated at the time that the operation was around 400 million euros.

A few days after that operation, the sale of 27% of London's West Ham was also closed for just over 230 million Czech businessman Daniel Kretinsky, co-owner in his country of Spartak Prague. Already at the beginning of this year, another premier club, Southampton, was acquired by a Serbian media businessman, Dragan Solar, for around 130 million euros. This investor is also the owner of a Turkish club. The American businessman John Textor, who tried to buy the Portuguese Benfica last year, took over a part of Crystal Palace at the end of last summer for just under 100 million euros.

The investment frenzy has reached other leagues. In France, one of the clubs with the most history, Olympique de Lyon was acquired at the beginning of the summer by Textor himself, through his Eagle Football Holdings group. As reported by Forbes, the operation, which will be carried out in several phases, has a price of about 840 million euros. As well as owning 40% of Crystal Palace and becoming the owner of Olympique de Lyon, Textor owns a Belgian second division club and Brazilian Botafogo.

The list of sales operations of European clubs in recent months closes in Italy. Stephen Pagliuca, co-owner of the Boston Celtics, runner-up in the NBA, made his entrance into football on the old continent by buying 55% of Atalanta at the beginning of the year. The operation amounted to just over 400 million euros. Genoa, considered to be the oldest Italian club, was also sold to an American investor, the fund 777 Partners for around 150 million euros. This investor is also a shareholder of Sevilla FC and Standard de Liège.

Parallel to the frenzy of investors to buy European football clubs, there is also a nascent market for direct acquisition of championships. Investment funds that acquire part of the rights of a league in exchange for benefiting from the income from the television broadcast of the matches. Spain was the first case in Europe. LaLiga sold a percentage of its shareholding to CVC a year ago in exchange for just under 2,000 million euros. It was later followed by the French LFP, who also achieved millionaire income with a similar operation. Now it is the German league, the DFL, that is exploring a similar situation, as reported by Bloomberg at the end of August. The body that governs professional football in Germany has commissioned Deutsche Bank to seek an investor for the operation. The financial media indicated Blackstone, KKR or, again, CVC as interested parties.

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