The sports payday made in Manchester

8 min read

Since being flung open almost three weeks ago, European football’s winter transfer window has been ever quiet. Spending is down sharply on last year, with the most headline-grabbing move so far being the swift unraveling of Jordan Henderson’s ill-fated move to Saudi Arabia.

Transfer activity usually happens late in the window. Sellers tend to lower their prices in the latter stages, while those in dire need of new blood are more likely to get desperate and bid up.

But it’s hard not to conclude that a chill wind is blowing through European football this winter. Tepid demand from broadcasters in the latest round of rights auctions, uncertainty about Fifa’s agents rules, and the Premier League’s recent embrace of spending rule enforcement may all be having an effect. We’ll keep an eye on it, and report back at the end of the window.

It’s one of the many things we’ll be discussing at The Business of Football Summit, which returns next month in London. We have an incredible line up of speakers already confirmed, including Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis, Eagle Football chair John Textor, LaLiga President Javier Tebas and Newcastle United director Amanda Staveley.

As a Scoreboard subscriber, you can register for your complimentary digital pass here to watch the event online on February 28-29, or save £200 on your in-person pass to join us at The Biltmore Mayfair on February 29. Register here.

For now, we’re looking through the big download of documents related to Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s investment in Manchester United, and we’ll ask if tennis is next in line for Saudi Arabia’s sporting binge. Do read on — Josh Noble, sports editor

Raine adds Manchester United to its trophy cabinet

Rasmus Højlund: Manchester strikes © AP

The Glazer family’s $1.6bn deal to sell a 29 per cent stake in Manchester United finally landed just one day before Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s Christmas Day deadline. It’s a measure of how close the English football club came to entering 2024 with continued uncertainty about its future.

New documents posted this week with the Securities and Exchange Commission in the US shed some light on how the deal eventually got done, and why it took so long.

The Glazers entrusted Raine Group with United’s future after the US investment bank led the sale in May 2022 of Chelsea FC, achieving a price of £2.5bn in an accelerated process due to the sanctions imposed on billionaire oligarch Roman Abramovich.

It didn’t take long for the Glazers to act — they began talks with Raine the following month, according to those new stock exchange filings. It took until November 2022 for the Glazers to confirm that they would consider selling a stake in the club, in part or in full, raising expectations of another highly competitive auction.

More than 170 interested parties made contact but predictions of bids from Big Tech failed to materialize. Ultimately, Raine whittled it down to a Qatari group led by Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani and Monaco-based British billionaire Ratcliffe.

Compared to the Chelsea deal, the United process — codenamed Project Ruby — moved slowly. The stock exchange filings go some way to explaining the drag. Sheikh Jassim and Ratcliffe both submitted several offers, changing prices and reshaping the bid structures along the way. Ratcliffe’s offer per share started at $22, and landed at $33.

The documents also claim that the Qatari suitor failed to provide “customary financing commitment letters”, raising questions about how viable the offer really was. One person close to the bid has disputed this characterization and insisted the money to finance a full takeover was there.

However much rival gossip about Raine’s handling of the deal — and gossip they do — the bank is due to collect a $31.5mn fee for its work after emerging with yet another record valuation.

And it can add another big European club to its trophy cabinet. Raine was an adviser when Silver Lake invested $500mn into City Football Group, owner of Premier League champions Manchester City, in 2019, and on the sale of Olympique Lyonnais in 2022.

Raine also advised both sides as Nassef Sawiris and Wesley Edens welcomed new investment from investment firm Atairos into V Sports, the owner of Aston Villa, just days before Ratcliffe struck his agreement with the Glazers.

The bank’s sports team has no time to rest on their laurels, however. Colin Neville, Raine’s Yale-educated head of sports, is advising golfers as the US PGA Tour tries to map out a future in the face of new competition from an upstart backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. As such, Raine could have a hand in shaping the future of an entire sport, especially if the peace deal announced last June can be turned into something concrete.

With big fees and big influence, Raine has quickly established itself as one of the sporting world’s most prominent rainmakers.

Rafa Nadal signs on to the Saudi sport project

Ace: Rafael Nadal has become the latest star to support Saudi Arabia’s sporting ambitions © AFP via Getty Images

The first Grand Slam tennis tournament of the year got underway this week in Melbourne without two-time winner Rafael Nadal. The 37-year-old picked up an injury at an ATP tournament in Brisbane earlier in the month, ruling him out of the Australian Open.

But the Spaniard has still been making headlines. On Tuesday, he announced a new role as an ambassador for the Saudi Tennis Federation, becoming the latest big star to lend their name and face to Riyadh’s sporting ambitions. The news came via both the STF Instagram channel (9,173 followers) and Nadal’s personal account (20.8mn followers).

Nadal has promised to “spend dedicated time” in the Gulf kingdom to help develop young talent, and will set up a Rafael Nadal Academy to that end.

“Everywhere you look in Saudi Arabia, you can see growth and progress and I’m excited to be part of that,” Nadal said. “The kids here today are looking to the future and have a real passion for all sports. If I can help them pick up a racket or simply get fit and enjoy the benefits of healthy living, then I’ll be happy to have made a difference.”

Nadal also has a link to Saudi Arabia as one of the team owners in E1 Series, a new Saudi-backed electric powerboat circuit that gets under way next month in Jeddah.

After an aggressive push into boxing, motorsport, football and golf, tennis is a natural next step for Saudi Arabia. The country has already lured the ATP Next Gen Finals from Milan to Jeddah, and — as first revealed by the FT — the ATP has been discussing possible joint investments with the Saudi sovereign wealth fund.

Riyadh has also made a big play for women’s tennis. There is rising expectation that the WTA will take the plunge this year and move its finals to Riyadh, in the face of staunch opposition from many in the game. Former Grand Slam champions Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova wrote an open letter to the WTA leadership last month, in which they said “allowing Saudi Arabia to host the WTA finals is entirely incompatible with the spirit and purpose of women’s tennis, and the WTA itself” .

We have seen this show before. A deep-pocket challenge against a sport with longstanding traditions, a small roster of star players and a big global audience. One new wrinkle this time is the recent rulings by the European Court of Justice on how sport’s governing bodies respond to competition, which may undermine any attempted fight back.

Tennis appears ripe for LIV-style disruption. Bagging Nadal’s endorsement is a sign of things to come.


Drive to survive: The TV production company behind the F1 series bags a £30mn investment © AP
  • The film producers behind Netflix’s Drive to Survive, the docuseries that helped revitalize Formula One, are raising around £30mn from George Pyne’s Bruin Capital, the FT exclusively reported this week. It’s a bet that sports will keep pulling back the curtain to attract new fans, and shows that there are more ways to bet on the sector than buying a team.

  • Amazon is investing $115mn in exchange for a minority stake in the television networks that screen some of America’s biggest sports. The ecommerce group’s deal comes as part of a restructuring for Diamond Sports Group, which is aiming to leave bankruptcy protection; its collapse sparked a media rights crisis that spooked US sport.

  • The Hexagon Cup, a new padel tournament backed by the venture arm of the Daily Mail publisher, has clinched a broadcast deal in the UK with ITV. The event will take place later this month in Madrid.

  • If the brutality of a marathon or ultra-endurance event doesn’t appeal, how about a shorter race? The FT’s HTSI delves into the growing Tracksmith Amateur Mile, a one-mile race.

Final whistle

The Africa Cup of Nations is in full swing in Cote d’Ivoire. Already we’ve been treated to big upsets, mad goalsetc wild celebrations.

There’s also a new dance routine to learn, courtesy of the victorious Equatorial Guinea team, involving fake headers, knee flicks and a final Cristiano Ronaldo-style flourish. Get practicing!

You May Also Like

More From Author

+ There are no comments

Add yours