Complex Made Simple

The Saudi PIF scores with a winning pitch for Newcastle United  

A Saudi Arabian-backed takeover of Newcastle United has been agreed upon, ending a dispute that saw several parties challenge the bid. What was key in resolving this?

The consortium was able to successfully demonstrate that Saudi would not have control of the club The $409 mn takeover bid by the PIF collapsed last year An impediment to the takeover was the piracy in Saudi of sports broadcasts by Qatari-owned beIN

A Saudi Arabian-backed takeover of Newcastle United has been agreed upon, the Premier League and the club announced on Thursday, October 7.

On the same day, ahead of the announcement, Athletic.com said that the takeover saga which had dragged on for 18 months could soon bring to an end Mike Ashley’s 14-year ownership of the club.

The news comes after Saudi Arabia indicated it would lift its ban on broadcaster beIN SPORTS. beIN, a Qatari network, that has been unable to broadcast in Saudi for the last 4.5 years as part of a diplomatic dispute between the two nations, which got resolved this January.

Aljazeera confirmed the lifting of the broadcast ban, quoting the media group as saying in a statement: “We have been informed that Saudi Arabia’s 4.5-year ban on beIN SPORTS is going to be reversed soon.”

“We have also been approached by Saudi for them to settle our legal cases, including our $1bn investment arbitration,” beIN’s statement added.

The arbitration will be held in London.

The ending of the ban paved the way for removing a key obstacle behind the collapsed takeover of English Premier League (EPL) football club Newcastle United by Saudi’s sovereign wealth fund (PIF).

beIN said on Wednesday, October 6, that the kingdom’s ban was the TV channel’s “singular objection” to the Newcastle takeover.

Last December, the EPL and beIN announced a new rights deal worth a reported $500 million for the Middle East and North Africa region that will run until 2025.

The deal

The winning bid is by a three-party consortium that includes the venture capital and private equity company PCP Capital Partners, and RB Sports and Media.

There has been much controversy about PIF’s involvement in the takeover, but the consortium was apparently able to successfully demonstrate that Saudi would not have control of the club and could therefore pass the Premier League’s owners’ and directors’ test.

“Following the completion of the Premier League’s Owners’ and Directors’ Test, the club has been sold to the consortium with immediate effect,” said a statement from the EPL.

The EPL has underlined that it is PIF, rather than Saudi, that’s behind the takeover, and that the owners’ and directors’ test is an objective test that is regularly reviewed.

The news has resonated among Newcastle supporters with a recent survey by the Newcastle United Supporters Trust showing that 94% of respondents were in favor of the takeover.

Newcastle currently lies second from bottom in the PL table standings.

In a press release, Amanda Staveley, CEO of PCP Capital Partners, said: “This is a long-term investment. We are excited about the future prospects for Newcastle United.”

Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of PIF, said: “We are extremely proud to become the new owners of Newcastle United, one of the most famous clubs in English football.”  

Last year’s collapse of the deal

The $409 mn takeover bid by the PIF collapsed last year over concerns about how much control the kingdom’s leadership would have in the running of Newcastle, and reports over Saudi human rights abuses that the country denies, and the pirating of sports rights.

A key impediment to the takeover was the piracy in Saudi of sports broadcasts by Qatari-owned beIN, including of EPL games.

The ban had led to a piracy operation, essentially the rebroadcasting of beIN feeds via a service called BeOutQ.

Newcastle was challenging the EPL’s decision not to approve the takeover at a Competition Appeals Tribunal whose latest hearing was last week.