The Saudi-led takeover of Newcastle United, which was previously blocked, is set to be approved if the club can prove during arbitration proceedings between the club and the Premier League next January 3rd that the kingdom will not be a director of the club.
Newcastle’s owner, Mike Ashley, and the Premier League were going at it at the competition appeals tribunal (CAT) where the Queen’s Counsel (QC) employed by Ashley’s St James’ Holdings alleged leading UK clubs and Qatar broadcaster beIN Sports had lobbied the Premier League to kill the takeover.
It was also alleged that should Newcastle proceed with a buyout, it could be expelled from English football’s top tier, but these were mere threats thrown in the mix, amidst efforts to block the Saudi deal that in April of 2020 included Saudi sovereign wealth fund PIF, PCP Capital Partners and Reuben Brothers, which agreed to a £300 million payment to buy the club from Mike Ashley. The consortium pulled out from the deal end of July 2020 after the commercial agreement between the Investment Group and the club’s owners expired.
At the time, as revealed by BBC, the Premier League was seeking clarification of the links between PIF and the Saudi state as to who will govern the club.
The same question remains today. The Premier League’s QC, Adam Lewis, explained that arbitration hinges on the separation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the PIF.
“If the arbitration decides KSA is not a director then the transaction can and will go ahead, with no question of the owners’ and directors’ test being applied to KSA,” Lewis said.
The test in question refers to the alleged role of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018. This would not feature in the decision-making process of the buyout, should the state be ruled out in January as a decision-maker or manager of Newcastle United in case it is sold to the consortium.
As for the role by beIN Sports in opposing the takeover, it was in part because of Qatar’s then pronounced regional rivalry with Saudi and, most pertinently, its allegations of broadcast piracy against the Kingdom.
“At the time the Premier League was reaching its decision, beIN was in the midst of negotiations with the Premier League for another three years’ [overseas] rights deal,” said Daniel Jowell QC, representing St James’ Holdings.
“It was very publicly reported at the time that the beIN media group actively lobbied the Premier League against the takeover of Newcastle,” said Jowell.
Jowell also said the collapse of the deal had already cost Newcastle losses “in excess of £10 mn.”
Newcastle’s Premier league doldrums
Between now and the Jan. 3 arbitration hearing, there are 14 games with the most recent October 2nd tie featuring a loss. As of that date, they were second bottom with 3 points total and not even a single win on their record.
For the majority of fans, arbitration is where they are channeling their hope.
Jowell said that there was no guarantee the PIF will still be waiting, checkbook in hand, to buy the club from Mike Ashley, especially with the club’s losing record worsening.