Sheffield Wednesday delays plans for flotation

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The Independent Online
Sheffield Wednesday yesterday bucked the recent trend among football clubs by postponing plans to float on the stock market for at least two years.

Instead the Premier League club will proceed with a share placing and open issue to raise pounds 17m that will value The Owls at pounds 42.5m.

"The directors have considered various options including flotation," said the chairman, David Richards. "The objective for the company should be a full listing on the London Stock Exchange but it is likely to be more beneficial to achieve this in two or three years' time."

He said an immediate listing would not be possible because the company's financial performance last year had been worse than that of 1994, though the club declined to give further details. Sheffield Wednesday has yet to appoint full-time executives. The present directors are unpaid.

Nick Batram, an analyst at Greig Middleton, welcomed the postponement as a healthy evolution in the football club sector. It did not, he believed, foreshadow the beginning of the end for football flotations.

"The sector is maturing and this is a process that any new emerging sector goes through," he said. "Previously, there was a rarity value to football clubs. Now we've got past the hype stage. People are evaluating the clubs as businesses."

Wednesday's caution could pay off in the long term, he said.

In the largest single investment in an English football club by a City institution, Charterhouse Development Capital Funds, part of Charterhouse Bank, is subscribing to pounds 8.5m of the 85p shares, giving it a 20 per cent stake in the club. Charterhouse is also underwriting the issue and will buy up any shares not taken by the public.

The club has three classes of shares which are to be consolidated and traded though a matched bargain dealing facility operated by Charterhouse Tilney, also part of Charterhouse Bank.

Most of the funds raised will be used to buy new players. The rest will go towards improving the training ground, redeveloping the Hillsborough stadium and reducing bank borrowings.

Mr Richards said: "We need to keep competing at the very top level and unless we raise substantial cash it means we will be buying the pounds 2m player instead of the pounds 6m player."

Fears that football flotations had passed their high-water mark were heightened last week when shares in Charlton Athletic of the First Division collapsed on their first day of trading. Shares in other football clubs, including Birmingham City and Sunderland, are also trading below their offer price.