A Saudi Arabia-backed consortium has ended its interest in taking over English Premier League football side Newcastle United.
The group, which included Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund PIF, PCP Capital Partners and Reuben Brothers, was reported to have made a 300 million pounds bid to buy United from British businessman Mike Ashley. “With a deep appreciation for the Newcastle community and the significance of its football club, we have come to the decision to withdraw our interest in acquiring Newcastle United Football Club,” the group said in a statement. “We do so with regret, as we were excited and fully committed to invest in the great city of Newcastle and believe we could have returned the club to the position of its history, tradition and fans’ merit. Unfortunately, the prolonged process under the current circumstances coupled with global uncertainty has rendered the potential investment no longer commercially viable,” they added. The Premier League’s board had been carrying out an examination of the proposed takeover as part of its ‘owners and directors test’, which evaluates the suitability of ownership groups. However, the league’s CEO Richard Masters suggested last month that the proposed takeover had become complicated.
The consortium’s bid withdrawal comes after the process was stalled by concerns about piracy by the kingdom and human rights complaints. Amnesty International asked the league to consider blocking the bid because the fund was overseen by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and said he has been involved in a “sweeping crackdown on human rights”. A separate issue raised by critics of the proposed deal was Saudi Arabia’s response to cases of unauthorised broadcasting of Premier League games in the country. Last month, a World Trade Organization panel told Saudi Arabia it had breached global rules on intellectual property rights by failing to prosecute a pirate broadcaster of sports and movies in a dispute with Gulf neighbour Qatar regarding the BeoutQ channel, which broadcast Premier League games. The league has spent four months considering whether to approve the takeover that would have seen Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund gain an 80 percent stake in the northeast club. The British-based Reuben brothers and financier Amanda Staveley were planning to each buy the remaining 10 percent stakes to end the ownership of retail entrepreneur Mike Ashley.
The end of the Saudi bid left the North East club still in the hands of British businessman Mike Ashley, who has long faced protests and opposition from the fans. Many Newcastle fans had welcomed the takeover, seeing it as a chance to boost the club’s fortunes through investment in new players. Newcastle fans expressed frustration at the length of the Premier League’s scrutiny and press criticism of the takeover. “The supporters of Newcastle United have been treated with contempt by large parts of the football media and the Premier League during this failed takeover process,” said the NUFC Supporters Trust.