Legal report examines the rise of overseas investment in English Premier League football

Press release - Business May 2020

  • 75% of English Premier League (EPL) football clubs now have some form of overseas ownership
  • The US is the largest source of overseas ownership in the EPL
  • Over 50% of the owners of EPL clubs are corporate investors, private equity firms and hedge funds
  • This has happened over the last ten years

The EPL ownership study by global law firm Norton Rose Fulbright shows that three-quarters of the 20 EPL clubs now have some form of overseas ownership and that only three clubs remain with majority owners from their local communities. 

The firm’s sports law team analysed a range of sources including UK Companies House to compile the research.

The report underscores the growing importance of overseas financial investors - private equity firms, sovereign wealth funds, hedge funds and other international and domestic corporates in the global sports industry.

In 2000, no private equity firm or hedge fund had ownership interests in any EPL club.  By 2010, two clubs (10%) were at least partly owned by a private equity firm or hedge fund and, by 2020, this figure has risen to five clubs (25%).

In 2000, all current EPL clubs were domestically owned.  By 2010, three clubs (15%) were at least part-owned by a US investor and, today, this figure has risen to seven clubs (35%).  Similarly, in 2010, only one club was owned by Middle Eastern owners and there were no other Asian owners of those EPL clubs.  Now, seven clubs (35%) are at least partly owned by Asian investors, with three clubs having Middle Eastern owners and four clubs having owners from elsewhere in Asia.

Stephen Rigby, who leads Norton Rose Fulbright’s sports law practice, commented: 

“We have advised on cross-border acquisitions of football, F1, eSports and basketball teams in recent years and have seen a trend of US and Asian investors acquiring European sports teams.  We wanted to identify how extensive overseas investment in English football has become and to analyse the different types of investor we now see in English football. 

“Three-quarters of Premier League clubs now have some form of overseas ownership and this may increase further in the next few weeks if Newcastle United’s sale goes through. Our research includes an analysis of the various ownership trends that we have identified, such as the increase in private equity ownership, and the rise of the multi-club ownership model. 

“The problems posed by COVID-19 to football have yet to be worked through, but for regular events attracting tens of thousands of people to the same place at the same time, responding to COVID-19 is going to be a real challenge. The EPL clubs already had a lot of things to think about - as well as existing issues such as Brexit, compliance with Financial Fair Play rules, and the drive for sustainability, there is now increasing competition from other soccer leagues around the world. These issues will all increase the pressures on the business side of football during the 2020s.  

“As a result, we expect EPL clubs to continue to change hands with relative speed as new owners with new motivations for ownership appear – it seems unlikely that the interest in owning EPL clubs will fade. We set out some forward-looking projections in the report, including how we see COVID-19 affecting the football industry, where we might see the next wave of owners coming from, and the ownership trends we expect to see over the next decade.”

Norton Rose Fulbright’s lawyers have long-standing experience in the global sports sector, advising clients on sports-related transactions throughout North America, Europe, Asia, Australia and South Africa, covering soccer, rugby, Formula 1, basketball, NFL, cricket, ice hockey, tennis and horse racing. The firm advises on all aspects of sports law, and is particularly strong in the areas of acquisition and disposal of sports franchises, negotiation of sponsorship deals, stadium financings and investigations. Read Norton Rose Fulbright’s insights on business of sport: https://insidesportslaw.com/ 

 

 

For further information please contact:

Louise Nelson, Head of PR – Europe, Middle East and Asia

Tel: +44 20 7444 5086; Cell: +44 79 0968 4893