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Saudi Arabia’s PIF abandons bid for Newcastle United

Saudi Arabia’s PIF abandons bid for Newcastle United

The consortium formally withdrew its interest because of the prolonged process and current challenges

An investor group led by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has abandoned its proposed 300 million-pound ($390m) takeover of UK soccer team Newcastle United Football Club.

The consortium formally withdrew its interest because of the prolonged process and current challenges posed by the ongoing coronavirus crisis, it said in an emailed statement Thursday.

The investor group agreed to acquire the club from billionaire Mike Ashley in April, around the time English football was suspended because of the pandemic. After reaching the deal with Ashley, the consortium had been waiting for approval from the English Premier League on their suitability as owners.

“During the unforeseeably prolonged process, the commercial agreement between the investment group and the club’s owners expired,” the consortium said in the statement.

“Our investment thesis could not be sustained, particularly with no clarity as to the circumstances under which the next season will start and the new norms that will arise.”

The buyer consortium also included English financier Amanda Staveley and the British billionaire brothers Simon and David Reuben.

Newcastle United is one of the best-supported teams in England and regularly draws crowds of more than 50,000 to its stadium in the northeast of the country. Fans of the club, who have become disillusioned by perceived mismanagement under Ashley, had hoped a new owner would invest in players to make the team more competitive. Newcastle United has not won a major trophy for more than 50 years.

“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,” the consortium said in Thursday’s statement.

The PIF proposed investing an additional 250m pounds in the club over five years, as well as make further investments in the local community, according people familiar with the matter who asked not be identified as the details weren’t public. A representative for the consortium declined to comment beyond the statement.

American businessman Henry Mauriss has also been considering making a bid for Newcastle United and is prepared to offer about 350m pounds, Bloomberg News has reported. Ashley has owned the club since 2007.

The Newcastle takeover had attracted criticism from Amnesty International, which wanted the deal blocked because of its concerns about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“Time itself became an enemy of the transaction, particularly during this difficult phase marked by the many real challenges facing us all from Covid-19,” the consortium said in its statement.

Sports and leisure investments are part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan to diversify its economy away from oil. As leagues and clubs in Europe remain on the lookout for new investors, the PIF could now look elsewhere for a soccer deal.

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