Ipswich Town takeover: Marcus Evans sells club to American investors for £40m
- Credit: Archant/PA
Ipswich Town have new owners from today after Marcus Evans sold the club to a group of American investors, in a deal understood to be worth £40m.
Following a lengthy negotiation period, Evans has sold to Gamechanger 20 Ltd, a group made up of investors from the United States including Brett Johnson, Berke Bakay and Mark Detmer, who co-own USL club Phoenix Rising. Mike O’Leary, a former board member of both West Brom and Oxford United, is also part of the group and is understood to have been driving the deal. He is the club's new chairman.
Much of the finance behind the deal is coming from the ORG Portfolio Management group, a US-based investment firm who are understood to be using money from the Arizona State Pension fund as a large part of their investment in the club.
ORG own 90% of Gamechanger 20, with Johnson, Detmer and Bakay combining to own 5%. Evans will remain involved with the club with a 5% investment in Gamechanger.
Evans, who has owned the Blues for the last 13 years, will not be in a position to make decisions despite retaining an interest in the club, with the new owners in sole charge of the Blues' direction.
Under Evans, the club's debt is thought to now be in the region of £100m, though the vast majority of that has now been written off. Nearly all of any remaining debut is owed to the club's new owners.
Ipswich Town PLC, the group made up of existing shareholders prior to Evans’ purchase in 2007, will retain their combined 12.5% stake in the club but will be made an offer for their shares.
It's understood club staff, including manager Paul Cook, were informed this morning, with Evans insisting one of the conditions of the deal was the need to stick with and support the incumbent manager.
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A 'UK-based' CEO will soon be appointed, with that man likely to be current Bristol City's Mark Ashton.
Statement from Marcus Evans
I have always said that, whilst not actively looking to sell, I would seriously consider an offer made to me by a credible party if it would invest in Ipswich Town in a way that provides secure long-term funding to help take our club forwards. For an offer to succeed the following boxes had to be ticked:-
1) An irrevocable commitment to fund not just the purchase of the football club, but also to support a long-term business plan to invest in the team, infrastructure, our fans’ experience, the Academy and the Club’s role in the wider community.
2) Security for the Club’s employees, including a commitment to support the new manager
3) A fair treatment of the shareholders of ITFC PLC and ensuring that they are not left behind in any offer.
Following several months of detailed due diligence by both parties, to ensure this will be a ‘marriage made in heaven’, an agreement approved by the EFL was signed today and I am satisfied that the above conditions have been met.
A new company (Gamechanger 20 Ltd) has been formed specifically to purchase the Club for which a very fair price has been agreed for all of my equity, and in addition a payment for property and purchasing some of the debt previously owed to the ME Group including the debts acquired at a discount by the ME Group when buying the Club in 2007.
As part of the transaction, a portion of that historic debt has in effect been written off, leaving the Club with a much smaller debt burden and with nearly all Club debt owed to the new owners.
The new ultimate beneficial owner of the Club is a US investment fund called ORG, which manage funds on behalf of a large US pension fund and will own 90% of Gamechanger 20 Ltd. The ORG representative will be Ed Schwartz.
In addition to the pension fund investment in Gamechanger 20 LTD (GC20) through ORG, there is additional investment in GC20 through the Three Lions fund. This is managed by three Americans – Brett Johnson, Berke Bakay and Mark Detmer, who will jointly own 5% of GC20.
These three individuals will, alongside the new chairman, Mike O’Leary, formerly CEO at West Brom, oversee and manage the business. I will also keep a keen watchful eye on the Club and will invest in the new company, owning 5% of it. However, I plan to divorce myself from any day-to-day responsibilities and get back to following the Town as a highly interested, passionate and vested fan.
The exact format of the transaction means that the pension fund will be the majority owner of the company that owns the Club. The remaining shares are owned by small shareholders, many of whom are supporters. The new company is obliged to make an offer to buy the shares of Ipswich Town PLC for the same par value at which I have sold my own equity, therefore providing a potential exit for the Club’s army of small shareholders.
A key factor in reaching my decision to support the investment by a pension fund is the basic principle around which any such fund needs to invest. It has to see a return on its investment, and that return in all likelihood can only be achieved by way of promotion to the Premier League.
The fund has deep pockets, but by the nature of a pension fund will be fiscally responsible in the use of those funds. In order to meet its investment responsibilities, it will need to invest to secure Premier League status, and it has already committed to making substantial investment in both the Club’s playing squad and infrastructure.
I had always wanted to take the Club myself to the Premier League and sadly, for too short a window, at one time this had seemed possible. However, as important to me as my ambition for the Club was, if it didn’t work out I wanted to leave the Club in not only a more secure financial position than the perilous state in which I found it, but with ownership that provides triple A financial backing alongside a community ethos.
I believe I have found this and I look forward to cheering the team on every week as we work our way back to where we all want to be.
Statement from Gamechanger 20 Ltd
The new Chairman of ITFC will be Mike O’Leary, who is also the Chairman of Gamechanger 20 Ltd.
He said: “We want our first remarks on completion of this takeover to be words of thanks to Marcus Evans. We have been discussing this sale with him for more than a year, and throughout the negotiations his love for the Club has shone through.
“He is a true supporter and all of us at Gamechanger 20 are extremely grateful that he has chosen to put his trust in us.
“Marcus has invested considerable money, time and energy in Ipswich Town. His decision to waive much of the Club’s outstanding debt is one that deserves the gratitude of every single Ipswich Town fan."
Mike O'Leary has previous board level experience in the UK football industry, and more broadly with a number of larger FTSE and AIM listed organisations during his career.
The Three Lions
The Three Lions are part of the ownership group of the American team Phoenix Rising FC, which plays in the USL Championship Division.
Brett Johnson said: "We are humbled and excited to be investing in Ipswich Town, one of the finest clubs in the history of English football.
We are proud of our success on and off the pitch at Phoenix Rising and are committed to restoring ITFC to its former glory. To this end, the first priority is promotion to the Championship and the management team will be given additional funds to strengthen the playing squad.
“The Three Lions have considerable experience in commerce and marketing, and in the medium-term plan to increase revenue at the Club, but the short-term priority has to be the playing side, and we are committed to improving that, all the way from the Academy to the first-team."
The Board of Gamechanger 20 Ltd will comprise Mike O’Leary (Chairman), Ed Schwartz, Brett Johnson, Berke Bakay and Mark Detmer. They will be joined by a UK based CEO, an appointment that it is hoped will be made shortly.