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Volume 6 No. 211

Franchises

Premier League side Newcastle United received a formal bid of "almost" £300M ($397M) for the club from PCP Capital Partners, the private investment firm fronted by financier Amanda Staveley, according to Jason Mellor of the LONDON TIMES. The figure "falls significantly short" of the £380M ($503M) that club Owner Mike Ashley is "holding out for" after signaling his willingness to sell his controlling interest. Sources close to the negotiations suggested that the offer, which was made at the end of last week, is "take it or leave it," although it "remains to be seen whether this is the case." The parties have been in talks for the past month and the FA has been "made aware of the group’s interest in buying the Tyneside club through a combination of Staveley’s equity and that of her investors." The prerequisite “fit and proper persons test” for potential new owners has been scheduled but, with a deal still yet to be agreed, a "period of exclusivity over the purchase has not been entered into." PCP Capital Partners has been "carrying out due diligence on Newcastle’s finances, with a thorough review of the figures going back over the past 25 years." Ashley, 53, confirmed his intention to sell last month in a statement that "indicated he hoped a deal to end his association with the club could be concluded by Christmas." Even with the confirmation of a bid, "such a timescale appears ambitious at this stage" (LONDON TIMES, 11/21). In London, Binham & Ahmed reported PCP Capital made two bids for Newcastle in the past month, the "most recent at the end of last week," according to sources. People familiar with Staveley's thinking said that the value of the club must take into account the "danger of losing the Premier League’s lucrative broadcasting rights in the event of relegation." Another concern for the bidders is an investigation by U.K. tax authority HMRC, with the club’s managing director among execs "arrested and questioned this year in a probe into the tax affairs of leading European clubs." The club and the execs involved "deny any wrongdoing" (FINANCIAL TIMES, 11/20).

SERIOUS OFFER: In London, Luke Edwards wrote Ashley will "challenge" Staveley to "come back with a serious offer to buy the club" after an opening bid of less than £300M was rejected. Newcastle is "braced for a second offer to be made in the next few days" and wants to "see a significant increase in the amount of money on the table." Although Ashley is willing to take payment in installments, "there is much work to be done" in terms of agreeing to an acceptable price. If that does not happen, the talks "will be on the brink of collapse and the club would effectively be taken off the market." Staveley and her PCP financial backers are the only "serious bidders" and Ashley does not want a prospective takeover "hanging over the business all season." He has "always maintained he would only sell for a price he believes is fair." There is a "growing concern" within St. James' Park that the negotiations with Staveley are "not progressing as they should be at this stage of the process." Suspicions have been "heightened" as news of the bid, which was made last week, "leaked out" despite both parties signing non-disclosure agreements. Sources close to the talks "raised the idea that Staveley could be using Newcastle to raise her own profile, although it is difficult to see why she would want, or need, to do so." Ashley has "always been wary of those who court publicity when trying to do business deals." As things stand, negotiations will continue and "a second bid is anticipated before the end of the week after both sides denied reports that the first one had been a take it or leave it offer" (TELEGRAPH, 11/21). In London, Martin Hardy reported there was "also uncertainty" about where the funding to buy the club is "exactly coming from." It is thought the offer tabled by Staveley "falls way short" of the £380M asking price and the £300M that has been claimed. Those close to Staveley insist that a four-week timescale is "problematic because a further period of more intense diligence needs to be done." The sources also insisted that the NDA they signed has "not been broken because they say they did not leak the alleged takeover bid." They believe the takeover has a "reasonable chance" of happening (INDEPENDENT, 11/21).