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Saudi Wealth Fund Buys Newcastle United After League Backing
08/10/2021 10:28:47

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund has taken over Newcastle United FC from billionaire Mike Ashley after it received approval from the U.K.’s Premier League following a year and a half wait.

It comes a day after Bloomberg News reported that a major stumbling block to the deal had been removed by Saudi Arabia agreeing to lift a broadcasting ban on Qatar-based BeIn Media Group.

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

The head of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, Yasir Al Rumayyan, will become a non-executive chairman of Newcastle United.

“We are extremely proud to become the new owners of Newcastle United, one of the most famous clubs in English football,” Al Rumayyan said in a separate statement. “We thank the Newcastle fans for their tremendously loyal support over the years and we are excited to work together with them.”

Jamie Reuben, the son of billionaire businessman David Reuben, and Amanda Staveley, the financier who courted a deal with Newcastle United on behalf of the Saudi Public Investment Fund, will also join the Newcastle United board.

Qatar-based BeIN had been a major opponent of a Newcastle takeover, arguing to the U.K. Premier League that the Saudi ban and alleged piracy of BeIn content was doing massive damage to sports rights holders.

The Saudis walked away from the Newcastle talks in July 2020, citing prolonged regulatory issues and the pandemic.

The Premier League had sought reassurances over the independence of the PIF as owners, given its status as a state-owned investment fund.

“The Premier League has now received legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United Football Club,” the Premier League said in the statement.

Staveley and Reuben each took a 10% stake in the team, while PIF has an 80% share, said people with knowledge of the terms who asked not to be identified because they were private. The group paid about 305 million pounds ($415 million) for the club, they said.

Reuben was a non-executive director at west London soccer club QPR before stepping down in October 2020, according to the team’s website.

Spokespeople for the PIF and Reuben couldn’t be reached for comment.

Staveley said that the possibility of the team being relegated out of the Premier League was a “big issue” and that she needed to take a lot of advice on what to do about it, which included deciding on the future of coach Steve Bruce. She said she called him today, as the takeover was announced.

“We know Newcastle needs a lot of investment but we have to do that within the rules,” she said in an interview. She added that she was also interested in investing in women’s football.

The new owners take control at Newcastle a few weeks into the season, with the team currently positioned one place above the bottom. Each year, three out of the Premier League’s 20 teams get relegated, with a consequent drop in broadcast and other income.

The deal is being welcomed by the club’s long-suffering fans, while alarming human rights activists who have been pressing the international community to isolate Saudi Arabia over its treatment of government critics, women’s rights campaigners and other groups.

Newcastle United is one of the best-supported teams in England and regularly draws crowds of more than 50,000 to its stadium in the northeast of the country. Fans of the club, who have become disillusioned by perceived mismanagement under Ashley, have hoped for a new owner to invest in players and make the team more competitive. Newcastle United hasn’t won a major trophy for more than 50 years.

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