Mike Ashley, the owner of Newcastle United, has formally confirmed he is actively attempting to sell the club.
Although the Sports Direct founder has been open to offers for the Premier League club since the turn of this year, Ashley on Monday instructed St James’ Park officials to issue a public statement clarifying his intentions.
In a move which could be construed as an attempt to smoke out potential buyers, Ashley – who is understood to want around £380m for the concern he bought 10 years ago – makes it plain he would accept staggered payments and wants a clean break rather than a partnership with new investors.
Andrew Henderson, a lawyer acting for Ashley, appeared keen to create a sense of urgency as he discussed the logistical difficulties of a sale before late December. “Our intentions are to see if the club can be bought by new ownership, potentially by Christmas,” said Henderson.
“This would allow seriously interested parties to put themselves forward. It would allow a diligence period to carry on, then hopefully by Christmas a sale could be concluded.”
Justin Barnes, another lawyer and long-time Ashley associate, has been involved with Newcastle throughout 2017, with his primary role thought to be finding a buyer. It is understood that so far, non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) have been signed with four interested parties – some of which are based in China – but no formal offer has yet been made or accepted. Although clear expressions of interest, the signing of NDAs often represents little more than tyre-kicking exercises on the part of investors.
Nonetheless, this week’s Chinese communist party congress in Beijing could prove crucial in facilitating any takeover. It is thought China’s president, Xi Jinping, will announce the lifting of restrictions on capital leaving the country, thereby enabling Chinese investors to rekindle their interest in overseas football clubs.
Earlier this month Amanda Staveley, whose Dubai-based private equity firm, PCP Capital Partners, handles vast amounts of Middle Eastern oil wealth, watched Newcastle’s home draw with Liverpool. Apparently interested in buying a Premier League club, Staveley also talked to the manager Rafael Benítez, the managing director Lee Charnley, Barnes and Keith Bishop, who is Ashley’s PR adviser. Staveley is not, however, thought to have signed an NDA.
With the club on a firm financial footing, a coach of Benítez’s standing in charge and their 52,000-seater St James’ Park invariably sold out, Ashley believes the club represents an attractive proposition. He has, however, twice tried, and failed, to sell up – in 2008 and 2009.
The lack of immediate interest means he is prepared to compromise over a staggered payment schedule, thereby allowing any new owners to back Benítez in the January transfer window. Monday’s statement confirmed this stance.
“To give the club the best possible opportunity of securing the positioning and investment necessary to take it to the next level at what is an important time in its history, its present ownership has determined that it is in the best interests of Newcastle United and its fans for the club to be put up for sale,” the statement read.
“To give an incoming owner the maximum possible flexibility to make meaningful investment in the club, including in its playing squad, the sale process will give interested parties the opportunity of deferring substantial payments.”