Blackburn Rovers yesterday moved a step closer to becoming the first Premier League club under Indian ownership when they announced they are "hopeful" that a sale to the Venky's conglomerate, described as the "largest fully integrated poultry group" in Asia, will be be completed in November.
Rovers' potential new owners are expected to pay around £46m to take control of the club, most of that going to clear existing debt. The firm's managing director, B Venkatesh Rao, said Venky's will invest further funds into the club upon completion of the deal but declined to say how much.
Officials from the Indian company have already held meetings with the Premier League but have yet to take the owners and directors test. No problems are expected in clearing that. "Both parties are hopeful that the transaction will be completed in November," Rovers chairman, John Williams, said. "A series of meetings, including discussions with the Premier League, have followed an extensive due diligence process."
Venky's chairwoman, Anuradha J Desai, daughter of the firm's late founder, Dr BV Rao, said: "We expect to be the first Indian company to acquire a Premier League team and we are particularly delighted that the team is Blackburn Rovers, with whom we believe we have many shared values and ambitions."
Venky's is the colloquial term used in the subcontinent to describe the VH Group, which specialises in poultry farming but has a diverse interests in foods, vaccines and pharmaceuticals, although not sport, to date. The firm's flagship company is Venkateshwara Hatcheries and group has a turnover of around £1bn and profits last year of £118m.
"We have to pump in some more money but I don't want to get into the details now," B Venkatesh Rao said on Indian TV yesterday. "We are not here to compete with anybody. It's one of the very prestigious, very old clubs and it's well run... we are very positive. Let us start a new chapter."
Blackburn attracted other Indian interest in August when Ahsan Ali Syed, a Bahrain-based Indian businessman who heads the Western Gulf Advisory investment company, said he was conducting due diligence and was hopeful of a deal. No deal was forthcoming although a spokesperson for WGA said last night the company was still interested in Blackburn.
Though Venky's has no track record in sport, Blackburn offer a relatively cheap entry point into the Premier League, a platform that offers global publicity and opportunities to increase brand awareness. It has also been reported that the international sports agency Kentaro might have some role in the takeover. Kentaro has an events-staging and TV rights arm, and also has an agency business looking after player interests. The agency arm could explore options for placing players with Blackburn while the TV rights section would offer valuable experience for promoting Blackburn in new markets.
India is seen a growing market for the Premier League, with Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Manchester City among the clubs exploring or developing academies and/or commercial partnerships in the country. The Premier League also privately views India as having more immediate potential as a new marketplace than China, where government still dictates all areas of business.
India's burgeoning middle class, estimated at 300m people from a total population of approaching 1.2bn, also has a growing appetite for football, albeit from a low base. There is an established pay-TV market in India, focused in the major metropolitan areas, which is growing quickly, so the League would likely welcome an Indian-owned club that increased its popularity in India, and probably the value of future TV rights deals too.
Blackburn are fourth from bottom of the table, and their manager, Sam Allardyce, spoke last week of the need for a "conclusion" to the ownership situation because the speculation "does leave the club in limbo."
Eight Premier League clubs are already under full foreign ownership – Aston Villa, Birmingham City, Chelsea, Fulham, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Sunderland – while Arsenal, Blackpool and West Ham have foreign shareholders with significant stakes.
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