AFC Bournemouth is Ripe for Sale and Las Vegas Golden Knights Owner Bill Foley is Interested
The English Premier League (EPL) is the most valuable and most watched football (soccer) league in the world. Valued at around $9 billion, a third of the League’s annual revenue (~$3.14 billion) comes from key streams such as sponsorship deals, international TV rights, and multiple endorsements. This type of big business success has drawn the eyes of eager investors from the United States as they look to diversify their own portfolios. Correspondingly, EPL club owners are showing their willingness to sell their stakes at a high price. AFC Bournemouth Owner Maxim Denim is the latest owner to put his club on the market and negotiations are underway with Las Vegas Golden Knights Owner Bill Foley. However, selling a newly promoted EPL club requires careful valuation and expectation management from both parties before a final sale price is set.
AFC Bournemouth’s Value
Maxim Denim acquired 50% ownership of AFC Bournemouth in 2011 and took full control of the club two years later. He initially demonstrated interest in selling the club in the summer of 2021, but he wisely decided to hold onto his asset for another year. His patience was rewarded after AFC Bournemouth earned promotion from the Championship, the second tier of English professional football, to the EPL, the top tier. AFC Bournemouth was previously in the EPL for four seasons from 2015-2019, all under the ownership of Denim, but the team has since fought for promotion from the Championship.
Club owners crave promotion because teams earn higher revenues in the top tiers of football. Now, as an EPL club, it is estimated that AFC Bournemouth’s total revenue could increase from the £118.5 million it made from the 2021-22 season to £150.1 million by the end of the 2022-23 season. Most of the increase will likely come from the EPL’s broadcasting revenue.
In the EPL, domestic broadcasting revenue is split on a 50:25:25 basis, with 50% divided equally between the 20 teams, 25% awarded on a merit basis determined by final league positions, and the final 25% distributed as a facilities fee for televised matches. Further, international broadcast revenues are shared equally between the clubs and any increase in international broadcast revenues is distributed based on where the clubs finish in the EPL standings. The most prominent example of broadcasting revenue comes from the EPL’s media rights deal with NBC. Agreed to in 2021, NBC received exclusive broadcasting rights for EPL matches in the United States for six years in exchange for ~$2.7 billion. These media revenue figures will play a substantial part in Denim’s valuation of the club.
Denim truly struck oil when his club was promoted back to the EPL, however the vein of success could be short-lived due to the competitive nature of the League. If his club finishes in the bottom three of the table at the end of the season, AFC Bournemouth will be relegated back to the Championship without realizing the long-term revenue benefits of EPL survival. EPL survival is an important club valuation factor because the lower the chances of survival, the less long-term value a club has; and, unfortunately, the team is not helping its own survival chances.
The club recently sacked its head coach Scott Parker, who had led Bournemouth to the EPL, after suffering a 9-0 defeat to Liverpool FC. While Bournemouth currently sits in the middle of the EPL table with eight points after seven games, the entire 38-game EPL season can take its toll on a newly promoted organization. Last season for example, Norwich City, Watford, and Brentford were the three newly promoted teams from the 2020-21 Championship, but only Brentford was able to survive the 2021-22 EPL season.
Brentford proved that newly promoted teams can be successful in the EPL, after finishing 13th with 46 points (11 points above the relegation zone). However, Norwich and Watford finished in the bottom two places with 22 and 23 total points respectively, resulting in relegation back to the Championship. The lowest placing team that was safe from relegation was Leeds United with 38 points. With at least a 15-point difference from Leeds, Norwich and Watford were clearly well below the standard needed for EPL survival, which has hovered around 40 points over the past few seasons.
The bad news for Bournemouth (and Denim) is they have been projected to be relegated back to the Championship after this season. When Denim initially contemplated selling the club in July 2021, Bournemouth was in the Championship and was valued between £80-£100 million (according to Kieran Maguire, a football finance professor at the University of Liverpool). Currently, Maguire values the newly promoted EPL club at £130+ million. With a £30+ million valuation increase that mostly resulted from the promotion to the EPL, Denim must consider that now may be his best chance to sell the club at a high price before risking a negative change in valuation that would result from EPL relegation, whether projected or certain.
Finding the Right Buyer
However, there is a glimmer of hope for Maxim Denim as he seeks a way to sell his ownership. Denim can attempt to benefit from a general increase in American investment in the EPL as he contemplates his own shrewd ownership exit. American investors, many of whom are already sports team owners in one of the big 4 sports leagues of the United States, are drawn to the EPL because there is an appreciating dollar exchange rate against the pound, football clubs are generally more affordable compared to sports franchises in the United States, and there is a strong earnings potential from competing in the EPL.
As stated, Denim’s rumored buyer is Bill Foley, the owner of the NHL’s Las Vegas Golden Knights. Foley was the first owner to bring a professional sports team to Las Vegas, paying the $500 million expansion fee to create the Golden Knights in 2016. The sports owner had previously shown his interest in football after pursuing a Major League Soccer expansion team in Las Vegas in 2021.Additionally, earlier this summer, Foley attempted to join a buyout of French football giant Olympique Lyonnais. At the time, he stated he had ”spent a significant amount of time analyzing professional soccer in Europe." Foley’s investment intentions are clear, and it follows a growing trend of American investors buying a stake in the EPL.
Further, it is no secret that the United States has recently impacted English football in both an ownership and an on-field perspective. From an ownership side, a few clubs are already primarily owned by American investors, including Arsenal, Fulham, Liverpool, and Manchester United. Most recently in Spring 2022, Todd Boehly, owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, led a consortium to complete a majority takeover of Chelsea FC for £2.5 billion.
On the field, the United States Men’s National Team (“USMNT”) has multiple players who feature in the EPL and the Championship, including Christian Pulisic, Antonee Robinson, Tim Ream, and Josh Sargent. Moreover, Leeds United is touted as the American experiment, employing American coach Jesse Marsch and USMNT players Brenden Aaronson and Tyler Adams.
From Leeds’s perspective as a brand, this was an outstanding marketing move because the team has potentially found a way to capture the allegiance of the casual American soccer fan from the bigger "bandwagon" EPL brands like Manchester United, Liverpool, or Manchester City. Not to mention, Leeds is owned 44% by 49ers Enterprises, the parent company of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers. The surge of American influence in the EPL has buzzed the League over the past few seasons, and Foley’s new ownership would only increase that trend.
Foley Must Invest in AFC Bournemouth
As is the case with many professional sports teams, owners are expected to invest in their new English football assets. Foley should expect to invest in player transfers if he becomes the new owner because Bournemouth may need new talent to ensure EPL survival. The sale of AFC Bournemouth is projected to finalize before the World Cup in late November and just before midseason in the EPL. Regardless of Bournemouth’s standing in the EPL table at that moment, there would be plenty of time for Foley to invest in the club to help ensure EPL survival. The January transfer window is a great time for EPL owners to evaluate what the club needs and to bring in new talent to give the club a boost in the push for survival.
For instance, Newcastle United underwent an ownership change for £305 million in October 2021, when the team was winless and towards the bottom of the table in the 2021-22 EPL season. However, the new owners invested in the club during the January 2022 transfer window and the team finished the season in 11th place, clear of relegation and with a promise towards a better 2022-23 season. Investment in player transfers was the key to survival, and Foley can do the same at AFC Bournemouth.
Based on Foley’s investing and spending habits with the Las Vegas Golden Knights, Bournemouth should be in good hands with its potential new American owner. The Golden Knights appeared in the Stanley Cup finals in their first year of NHL competition, and Foley has generally taken a hands-on approach with the day-to-day management of the team. Foley describes the Golden Knights‘ team ethos as an ”identity of never giving up, never giving in and being a team.” He seems willing to dedicate time, effort, and money into his team assets, and it is hard to imagine that things would be any different with AFC Bournemouth.
As it stands, Bill Foley’s investment in an English club would further the steady American takeover in English football, and it would allow Foley to achieve his own goal of expanding his portfolio in European football. The current project valuation of £130+ million is a bargain for both sides, and it remains a bargain for Foley even if that number increases closer to the £305 million selling price of Newcastle United. Denim can sell the club high while Bournemouth enjoys its stint in the EPL, and Foley would become an owner in English football at a relatively low price compared to the £2.5 billion Boehly and his partners paid for Chelsea. Granted, investing in a newly promoted EPL club is entirely different from investing in a trophy-winning European football giant like Chelsea, but the risk of Bournemouth’s subsequent relegation is well worth the reward for eager investors.
If Foley vigorously invests in the team after completing the acquisition, like he has with the Golden Knights, he can quickly win over the fans, reap the large rewards of owning an English football club, and secure continuous EPL survival. Overall, this transaction is ripe for negotiation and a final agreement will be reached in the coming months.
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