Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi-controlled owner has agreed to sell a $500 million stake to U.S. private equity firm Silver Lake, making it the world’s most valuable soccer group with a $4.8 billion price tag.
Tech-focused Silver Lake will buy just over 10% of City Football Group (CFG), which owns reigning English Premier League champions Manchester City and teams in the United States, Australia and China, the companies said on Wednesday.
The investment crowns a rags to riches story for Manchester City, which spent much of the 1990s in the doldrums but broke into the big league of world soccer with the help of Middle Eastern cash.
Europe’s top soccer clubs have drawn in big money from some of the world’s richest investors over the last decade, as the game attracts more fans in lucrative markets such as Asia, the United States and the Middle East.
Chinese investors paid $400 million for a 13% stake in CFG four years ago, valuing the group at $3 billion at that time.
Chelsea are owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, while America’s Fenway Sports Group controls current European champions Liverpool and French champions Paris Saint Germain are owned by Qatar Sports Investments.
“We and Silver Lake share the strong belief in the opportunities being presented by the convergence of entertainment, sports and technology and the resulting ability for CFG to generate long-term growth and new revenue streams globally,” CFG Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak said.
CFG, which also owns or part owns New York City FC, Melbourne City FC, Yokohama F. Marinos in Japan, Club Atletico Torque in Uruguay, Girona FC in Spain and Sichuan Jiuniu FC in China, said none of its shareholders were selling stakes.
Abu Dhabi United Group, the investment vehicle owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, will remain the majority CFG shareholder with a stake of around 77% after the deal.
It is relatively rare for private equity firms to buy into soccer because they want a relatively quick return and while clubs make their money from lucrative broadcasting rights, their fortunes still depend on their success on the field.
Silver Lake Managing Director Egon Durban, who will join CFG’s board, said the California-based firm’s investment would “help drive the next phase of CFG’s growth in the fast-growing premium sports and entertainment content market”.
Silver Lake owns stakes in entertainment and sport talent agencies group Endeavor and global sports agency IMG.
TURNING THE TABLES
Although City were champions of England in 1968, the club were heavily overshadowed by local rivals Manchester United and fell into the third tier of English soccer in 1998.
The team were a mid-table Premier League side when they were purchased by the Abu Dhabi Group in 2008.
Within four years, City won the Premier League, their first top-flight title in 44 years, and Spaniard Pep Guardiola, appointed manager in 2016, guided the club to a second straight title and a domestic treble of trophies last season.
But City have yet to achieve their goal of winning Europe’s most prestigious prize, the Champions League.
And an investigation by European soccer’s governing body UEFA into alleged breaches of Financial Fair Play rules could potentially see the team barred from the competition.
Aside from Man City, CFG’s most notable investment was to create New York City FC, a Major League Soccer franchise which plays at Yankee Stadium, home of the New York Yankees baseball team.
Man City, whose squad includes England’s Raheem Sterling, Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne and Argentina’s Sergio Aguero, reported record 2018-19 revenue of 535.2 million pounds ($687 million) in a fifth consecutive year of profitability.