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Former Disney Chief Michael Eisner Bids for English Soccer Club

Variety logo Variety 5/19/2017 Leo Barraclough
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Former Disney chief Michael Eisner is bidding to join the elite world of English soccer team owners, gunning for a prize that has become a new badge of prestige for billionaires, Chinese companies and other wealthy concerns.

Fans and shareholders of England’s Portsmouth Football Club are voting on a £5.67 million ($7.38 million) takeover bid by Eisner and his Tornante investment group. The ballot closes Friday.

Eisner’s bid has a 70-day period of exclusivity, which runs out June 1. In addition to the offer price, he has committed to investing an additional £10 million ($13 million) in the club.

Most of the top English clubs are under foreign ownership, including national champions Chelsea, which is owned by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, and Manchester United, owned by the U.S.’s Glazer family. Television rights for the top tier of English soccer, the Premier League, are worth £10.4 billion ($13.5 billion) over three years, the highest in the world.

Portsmouth used to be in the Premier League, but its fortunes have rapidly declined. At one point, it fell into the fourth tier of the local leagues and also into bankruptcy. The club was saved through the setting up of an ownership group led by a fans’ organization, which now recommends accepting Eisner’s offer.

If it is approved, Portsmouth would become the latest English soccer team to rely on foreign investment. Chinese investors have also taken stakes in the Aston Villa, West Bromwich Albion, and Birmingham City and Wolves teams.

Eisner, a former president of Paramount Pictures as well as an early investor in Netflix, is reported to have previously expressed an interest in buying another English club, Reading.

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