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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

QPR Takeover - Ecclestone and Briatore in Joint Consortium

The Times - August 30, 2007 - Ecclestone chooses QPR over Arsenal
Gary Jacob and Edward Gorman

Bernie Ecclestone will acquire a majority stake in Queens Park Rangers as part of a takeover that is expected to be announced today, but he has not ruled out bidding to take over at Arsenal at a later date. The Formula One rights holder is joined in a con-sortium by Flavio Briatore, the principal at the Renault Formula One team and one of his closest allies, whose interest was reported by The Times this month.

Ecclestone ruled himself out of the deal when first approached by Briatore, but he has since changed his mind. They could offer a solution for fans desperate for their club to return to their former glory — they finished eighth in the top flight as recently as 1995, but were relegated a season later. They have since spent three seasons in the third tier of English football, beset by financial problems.

Neither businessman is known for a love of football — although they are friendly with Roman Abramovich, the Chelsea owner, and have been to matches at Stamford Bridge — but their sharp thinking has gained a unique place in Formula One. Ecclestone transformed Formula One into a multibillion-pound industry that employs thousands of people in Britain alone, while Briatore helped to master-mind the transfer of a little-known Michael Schumacher and spotted Fernando Alonso, both of whom he helped to turn into world champions.

Briatore, the flamboyant Italian who is thought to be worth about £70 million, has admitted that he has seen Loftus Road, the club’s stadium, only from the air, en route by helicopter from his home in Chelsea to his team’s headquarters in Oxfordshire. Ecclestone, whose fortune is valued at £2.2 billion, would have to sell most of his stake in QPR, the Coca-Cola Championship club, if he wanted to complete the bid for Arsenal that he has said that he is interested in pursuing. The directors of the Barclays Premier League club have agreed not to sell their shares until at least April.

The takeover of QPR will be worth about £25 million, including taking on the debt of about £21 million. John Gregory, the QPR manager, has been promised about £10 million to spend on players in January, but he will hope that there may be funds to bring in some players before the transfer window closes tomorrow night.

The new owners will repay the £10 million that is owed to the ABC Corporation, a company registered in Panama, which provided a loan that helped the club to exit administration six years ago. The interest payments of 10 per cent have been a considerable burden.

The club borrowed a further £1.3 million from the same company to stave off the threat of administration this summer, money that was used to pay Revenue & Customs. QPR still owe the taxman about £3 million and their directors, including Antonio Caliendo, the chairman of QPR Holdings Ltd, and Gianni Paladini, the club chairman, are owed £7 million in loans.

The new owners will probably look at whether it is feasible to continue playing at Loftus Road. Despite its position in West London, the stadium has been estimated by property experts to be worth about £24 million because covenants on the site limit the housing that can be built. QPR officials have previously considered building a joint stadium in West London with Fulham, who would sell Craven Cottage. The officials have looked at a site near the BBC headquarters in Wood Lane, White City.

Other consortiums, including one involving Ronny Rosenthal, the former Liverpool forward, were entertained by QPR this summer, but the business-men felt that the sums could not add up unless the club went into administration to restructure the debt.

Dual control

— Bernie Ecclestone’s involvement in the deal to buy Queens Park Rangers could prevent the Formula One ringmaster from taking over Arsenal.

— Ecclestone would not be allowed to own more than 9.9 per cent of the shares in another club. David Sullivan, the Birmingham City co-owner, owned about 5 per cent of the shares in West Ham United until he sold up to Eggert Magnússon last season. The Times

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