Much Ado About Villa
The rumour mill buyer
With the rumours of Lerner looking to sell Aston Villa growing pace, Villa supporters have been Googling the names off the world’s richest list alongside ‘Aston Villa’ in the vain hope of finding clues. The world’s richest man Mexican Carlos Slim and the fifth on the world’s richest list Larry Ellison have been the most popular strands of wishful thinking. All are red herrings though.
Once upon a time, there was talk of Villa chairman Randy Lerner seeking additional finances for the club, so MOMS is not 100% convinced the Villa chairman is looking to wipe his hands clean of Aston Villa and sell up completely. Lerner may actually still maintain an interest in Villa. If he was seeking partners (even if he kept just a minority stake), his first port of call would have been America. As well as obviously having a wealth of contacts in his native country, the Premier League profile is ever increasing with this season kick-starting NBC paying the Premier League $250 million over three years, for the TV rights.
So far NBC’s coverage has been a success. It was reported in the New York Times that average audiences were 70% up on last season’s Fox Sports and ESPN’s coverage and that it was having a knock-on effect in also boosting audiences for the native MLS league games. Such growth perhaps makes it enticing for existing American sports franchise owners to add a Premier League club to their portfolio to use their existing supporter base for cross promotion. Remember the half-half Aston Villa-Cleveland Browns scarves in the Villa club shop?
At the moment, all roads on the Villa rumourmill lead to Texas. There was always something odd about Villa’s seemingly targeted forthcoming two game pre-season trip to Texas this summer. Why specifically Texas? Normally, Premier League teams visiting the states try to spread a visit over at least three games in different states to maximise the reach and coverage of their trip.
Well, the co-owners of the Texan Rangers baseball team, Ray Davis and Bob Simpson have been increasingly tipped as the men Lerner has lined-up to either buy him out or invest in Villa. The duo invested $593 million to save the Rangers from bankruptcy before they reached the Word Series in both 2010 and 2011 (the first time in the team’s history). Both made their billions in the energy industry and may have been buoyed by the example of fellow baseball club owner John W. Henry, who owns the Boston Red Sox and after buying Liverpool in 2010 is on the verge of seeing them win the Premier League having already secured Champion’s League football again for the club.
Villa’s trip to Texas would obviously prove a perfect showcase to announce the deal and allow Villa to press the flesh over there. With this in mind, it’s worth considering that Stoke City visited Texas last preseason to also play FC Dallas. So, it could be a case of 2+2=5? But Stoke City did have a reason, as they have a sister club in Orlando City, so pre-season trips to the USA are logical to build relations.
Lets hope if Villa are to be subject to a Texan cash injection, it’ll be the start of a beautiful relationship. Looking closer at Randy Lerner’s statement this week, there’s certainly something brewing…
So…is Aston Villa up for sale?
By Rich Petersson
Rumours have been doing the rounds for a few months now, regarding whether or not Aston Villa are up for sale and over the weekend they reached a crescendo in the press. In response, the club issued a direct statement from Randy Lerner (which you’ll find below). A statement he could have used to deny these rumours and reaffirm his commitment to the club. However, he didn’t do this, instead supporters were told to wait.
What can we read into this statement then?
To me, it seems clear confirmation that the club is up for sale. Randy Lerner may not have invested as heavily in the club (as the fans would have liked) over the past four years but, he is still a very shrewd businessman. Would he really issue a statement like this, so obviously making it clear that he is open to a sale of the club, without having a buyer in place? By doing this, he is very unlikely to be able to demand the sort of money that is being talked about in a potential sale. He is owed nearly £200m by the club and bought us for £63m. He will undoubtedly want to recoup as much of his investment as possible. By making it so obvious that he wants to sell the club he is putting himself in a poor position as a seller. Therefore, not only does this statement indicate to me that he wants to sell, it tells me that there is a buyer in place.
What about the timing of the statement?
This latest statement has been released at around 4pm on Easter Sunday. Why? Surely it could have waited. Perhaps, after numerous newspapers running with the story, someone has hit the nail on the head, or at least, an article has come a little too close to home. It is unlikely that this statement was planned. Are the club being reactive or proactive? Although it is speculation, we may see further stories breaking in the coming days and in anticipation of this Aston Villa may feel that they need to stay ahead of the game instead of allowing the media to fuel further rumours.
Why doesn’t he just admit we’re for sale?
After the statements that have been issued this week and the circus surrounding the club at the moment, this could have far more damaging effects. Paul Faulkner wanted Villa fans to pull together, to be positive and support the club. Randy himself, praised Lambert for his commitment to the club. To admit that he wanted to sell the club now, although it may be welcomed by fans, would demonstrate a lack of commitment. In addition to this, Paul Lambert’s men, despite yesterday’s priceless point, are still teetering on the brink of relegation and may yet still drop down a division. It may be an exciting time for fans, but the players and management, may see it slightly differently. Talk of a potential sale could be very unsettling for our current squad, a squad that probably have enough weighing on their minds already. Randy Lerner needs to continue with his message of solidarity and commitment, the players need to show these same attributes for the remaining four games.
It may still transpire that this statement is being completely misunderstood and that Randy has no intention of selling the club. It may be that the club is for sale but they have had minimal interest to date, or at least they are in early discussions with interested parties but next year will see vastly improved revenue streams for Premier League clubs, with the new television deal. Aston Villa remains a famous club, recognised around the world. They have fallen behind many clubs in recent years but the infrastructure is still there and they should still be a fantastic proposition for potential buyers, far more so than the majority of clubs in the country.
Statement Randy Lerner signed off on…
“Following the point yesterday at Villa Park, there have been stories about my selling the Club. On a personal level, I had hoped the emphasis would have been on the amazing effort on the part of our manager and our players to regroup throughout a very difficult week. Injuries to Libor and Christian, compounded with the early loss of Jores and the difficult rehab of Charles have no doubt left Paul with far less to work with than is fair. Still, Paul Lambert has done nothing but work within the parameters I’ve set, put the Club first and continue to trust his players. As regards my personal role at the Club and the steady rumours of a sale, I will address these after the season. Paul Lambert, Paul Faulkner and I speak daily and remain committed to the immediate job of limiting distraction and confusion in order that Villa have the best chance possible of finishing on a strong note.”
– Randy Lerner, Aston Villa Chairman
Thanks to Richard, the original article can be found on his blog Much Ado About Sport. You can follow him on his new Twitter account – @weeklygroan