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Buyout giant lines up ex-BBC chief for £300m EFL bid

Written by on 24/10/2020

The American buyout firm proposing a £300m cash injection into English football is lining up a former BBC executive to spearhead a revolution in the running of the lower leagues’ commercial operations.

Sky News has learnt that TPG Capital is working with Dominic Coles, who steered the corporation’s coverage of the London Olympics in 2012, on its attempt to buy a 20% stake in the English Football League (EFL)’s commercial rights arm.

Sources said this weekend that Mr Coles had been collaborating for months with the private equity firm on a plan to buy the shareholding.

The EFL’s board, led by chairman Rick Parry, rejected TPG’s initial approach amid a deepening row over the future financial structure of the English professional game.

The buyout firm’s preferred approach is understood to be to hold talks with Mr Parry and his colleagues on a friendly basis.

It is understood, however, that a number of clubowners and chairmen have already approached TPG directly to explore the firm’s offer.

Insiders said that TPG and Mr Coles had drawn up detailed plans to create a new operational service centre that would assist the EFL in areas such as ticketing, merchandising, security, data analytics and customer relationship management.

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A substantial part of the £300m cash infusion would be delivered in the form of upfront investment to clubs whose finances have been destroyed by the pandemic.

The remaining funds would be invested in longer-term growth initiatives aimed at improving the financial health of clubs whose ability to professionalise their back-office functions has been stymied by their size.

One area of focus would be the EFL’s streaming service, iFollow, which TPG is understood to believe would benefit from major investment.

The firm also thinks that the EFL’s broadcast rights are undervalued and that it could negotiate substantially improved domestic and international deals when they come up for renewal, according to one football source.

Mr Coles has lined up a broader team of executives to work with him at the new commercial rights holder, which would be akin to the structure put together by CVC Capital Partners at Premiership Rugby, rugby union’s top flight.

In addition to his role negotiating sports rights deals at the BBC, he worked as the corporation’s director of operations and in senior posts in its news and nations divisions.

He left in 2014 to take a senior job at Discovery Networks, the American media group.

Sammy Ameobi of Nottingham Forest, right, is challenged by Tom Lawrence of Derby County during a match between the teams last night
Image: Sammy Ameobi of Nottingham Forest, right, is challenged by Tom Lawrence of Derby County during a match between the teams last night

Earlier this year, he was appointed chairman of GB Sport Media, a new digital broadcast platform owned by the UK governing bodies of the 28 summer Olympic sports.

Mr Coles and TPG are understood to believe that there is substantial scope to improve the financial outlook of the EFL’s member clubs, even amid the carnage wrought by the COVID-19 crisis.

The EFL’s three divisions range from the early-season Championship table-toppers Reading to Southend United, the bottom side in League Two.

Many clubs have warned that they face going out of business without urgent financial support, a prospect made more likely by the possibility of a protracted period running well into next year of stadia without significant numbers of fans allowed.

The government has pressed the Premier League to make a substantial financial contribution to the EFL, which some top-flight clubs have objected to on the basis that other industries affected by the pandemic have not been asked to fund similar bailouts of smaller competitors.

English football has spent recent weeks in a state of chaos over the blueprint – dubbed Project Big Picture – orchestrated by Liverpool and Manchester United, which would have delivered £250m to the lower leagues.

Their proposal would have seen the Premier League reduced from 20 to 18 clubs, and Sky News revealed this week that English football’s biggest clubs have been holding talks about joining the European Premier League, a new continent-wide format that would have the backing of FIFA, the world governing body.

JP Morgan, the Wall Street bank, is in talks about providing a $6bn (£4.6bn) debt package to support the new league’s launch.

While many EFL clubs welcomed Project Big Picture, it was rapidly abandoned amid political opposition and protests from elsewhere within the sport.

The Premier League subsequently wrote to the EFL to offer a £50m grant to Leagues One and Two.

TPG is not the only private capital provider examining plans to provide funding to the EFL.

Other private equity firms have drawn up similar proposals, although some of those involve debt, rather than equity, funding.

One football industry insider said the offer of £300m for a 20% stake in the EFL’s commercial rights “significantly undervalued” them.

TPG, which has invested in businesses such as the talent agency CAA and Goal.com, the football website, declined to comment on Saturday.

 Sky News

© Sky News 2020

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