Newcastle FC fans criticize ‘negative’ media about Saudi’s Premier League deal
Fans of Newcastle United Football Club have come out in broad support of the proposed takeover deal led by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), while criticizing ongoing coverage by media outlets portraying the buyout in a negative light as unfairly targeting their club.
A consortium of investors are seeking a 300 million pound ($374.8 million) purchase of English professional football club Newcastle United. The agreement would see the club 80 percent owned by the PIF, with dealmaker Amanda Staveley’s PCP Partners owning 10 percent, and British real estate moguls David and Simon Reuben owning the final 10 percent.
A survey conducted by the football club’s trust last month found 96.7 percent of its fans are in support of the takeover. Many users have taken to social media to voice their support, while noting ongoing media criticism of the deal.
“Prepare yourself for the Sunday tabloids writing negative nonsense about the #nufctakover,” one fan exclaimed on Twitter, referring to recent articles in British newspapers that were critical of the takeover.
Fans expect the purchase to have a positive outcome on the club, a view supported by experts.
“The spending power of PIF and the Reuben Brothers considerably dwarfs anything Ashley or any other previous owners of the club could offer, and the expectation is that this would be reflected in player purchases,” Aymen Khoury, Partner at European law firm, Fieldfisher, told Al Arabiya English.
Fans say unfairly targeted by press
The deal has undergone sustained negative feedback by the press, despite premier league clubs changing hands many times.
If the #NUFCTakeover goes through this week... 𝙄𝙁 it goes through: PLEASE resist the urge to congregate at the ground. Don’t give the media a chance to criticise #NUFC fans more than they already have. #IsolationCans only— 𝙆𝙚𝙩𝙘𝙝 ⚽️💻🎙📻 (@ketchell) April 26, 2020
Several media commentators have argued that the takeover should not take place, presenting it in a political light and linking it to Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy, global broadcasting rights, and even the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
But Newcastle fans have said that this politicization has been unfairly targeted at them, pointing to the foreign ownership of other clubs as generating far less hostile reaction.
When I came on here a couple of weeks ago, I had no idea what #NUFC fans were having to put up with because of a biased UK press. However, I truly believe that no other club on earth could have handled what they've been through.— Kate Stewart 🇬🇧🌹🇸🇦 (@KateStewart22) April 29, 2020
They deserve the very best 🙏🏻🇬🇧🇸🇦#NUFCTakeover pic.twitter.com/C6oOXzv8sR
It is common for British and European football clubs to be have foreign owners, many of whom including Chelsea’s Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich and Paris Saint-Germain’s Qatari owners have been questioned for their records off the field.
The PIF meanwhile is an investment fund with a mandate to grow the Kingdom’s funds and invest in new and exciting areas that Saudi Arabia has previously avoided. The fund has previously invested in technology companies such as Tesla-competitor Lucid Motors, and holds a five percent stake in ride-sharing company Uber.
I’d have the perfect weekend if you’d give the green light on #nufctakover— Josh Davison (@Jdnufc92) May 2, 2020
Football fans in clubs across the UK have often accused their owners of not representing their clubs, with owners including Manchester United’s Malcolm and Edward Glazer brothers and Arsenal’s Stan Kroenke deeply unpopular amongst fans.
Others across Europe have had their share of troubled ownership. President of football club Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and beIN Media Group Chairman Nasser Al Khelaifi was charged following a bribery probe into how media rights for football tournaments were granted in February.
Al Khelaifi is accused of inciting former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke to commit aggravated criminal mismanagement by Swiss prosecutors. The pair will be tried in September.
In Newcastle’s case, there is a strong appetite for takeover stemming from a sense that the club is underperforming due to mismanagement by the current owner, Mike Ashley.
Newcastle United fans have expressed widespread contempt for Ashley, staging protests and accusing him of “ruining the club” by using it as a cash-cow for his other financial interests.
Under Ashley the club has suffered on the pitch too, which fans blame on a lack of investment. Despite returning to the top-flight of the Premier League in 2017, the club has not returned to its recent heights of the 1990s and early 2000s, when the club was one of the biggest in England.
The club may be in need of an owner with deep pockets, able to weather the storm of low revenue while building the club into a successful, and highly valued, property.
“Clubs like Newcastle face issues related to TV revenue, shirt sponsorship and deals coming to an end. That uncertainty may be something that PIF is prepared to weather and may even present an opportunity for them as new owners to enter their own deals with brands associated with Saudi Arabia or the region,” Khoury commented.
Another day of constantly checking my phone to see if takeovers went through, just cant help it, after 13 years of Ashley believing something good is happening is beyond comprehension #nufctakover @NUFC360 @stevewraith , just need to sit back and relax, it will happen, just when?— The entertainers part 2 ⚽️ (@Gavinjo50888643) May 2, 2020
However, some fans have questioned whether the new owners will be treated fairly by the football establishment.
On Twitter, Newcastle Fans TV questioned why the Mail had reported that Newcastle’s deals will be closely scrutinized for compliance with financial fair play (FFP) in the event of a takeover, and not while Ashley was taking money out of the club.
The Mail are reporting that the PL and UEFA say that any future commercial deals at #NUFC will be tightly scrutinised, so the PIF can’t bend the rules of FFP. #NUFCTakeover— Newcastle Fans TV (@NewcastleFansTV) April 27, 2020
Shame they never did the same when Ashley was ripping us off on SD advertising around SJP! 🤨 pic.twitter.com/4mfqDbQy2i
The long-term vision
The purchase of Newcastle United would be part of Saudi Arabia’s wider embrace of sport at the national and international level in line with its Vision 2030 reform program.
Vision 2030 seeks to transform the Kingdom’s economy away from its reliance on oil and implement social and lifestyle changes, including promoting sport in the Kingdom.
In November last year, thousands of wrestling fans were treated to the WWE’s Crown Jewel event in Saudi Arabia which included the first-ever women’s match to be held in the Kingdom.
Earlier in March, authorities signed a 10-year contract with the WWE to hold wrestling matches in the Kingdom, with “Royal Rumble” and “Raw title” events set to take place at a later date.
The Saudi Cup, the world’s richest horse race, held its first race earlier this year on February 29, 2020, with a $20,000,000 prize pool.
In motor sports, the Kingdom hosted the Formula E Championship, a tournament akin to Formula 1 but using only electric cars, and in early 2020 Saudi Arabia hosted its first of five years of off-road endurance event the Dakar Rally.
The PIF – the investment fund expected to buy Newcastle – is central to these plans, serving as a giant investment vehicle to drive the Vision 2030 plan into the post-hydrocarbon age.
Additional reporting by Tommy Hilton and Muhammed Nafie.