49ers to take bigger role at Leeds after upping minority stake
49ers Enterprises, the investment arm of NFL American football's San Francisco 49ers, has today increased its minority stake in Leeds United to 37 per cent after pumping a further £50 million ($68 million) into the English Premier League soccer club.
As part of the new investment, Paraag Marathe, president of 49ers Enterprises and a current Leeds board member, will become the vice-chairman of the northern club and have a bigger role in the day-to-day operations.
49ers Enterprises first acquired a 15-per-cent stake in Leeds in 2018 as part of a wider tie-up with Aser, the investment company founded by Andrea Radrizzani, which owns Leeds, and international pay-television broadcaster Eleven Sports.
The 49ers and Leeds have been formally linked since January 2014 when the two organisations entered into a strategic partnership.
Marathe, who has sat on Leeds’ board of directors since the initial acquisition, revealed last August that the NFL franchise’s investment vehicle was keen to increase its stake in Leeds after the club secured promotion back to the top flight after an absence of 16 years.
Radrizzani, the former chief executive of the MP & Silva agency who completed his takeover of Leeds in 2017, will retain a majority stake.
The Leeds owner said: “We are delighted to welcome further investment into our club from 49ers Enterprises and I am confident that this latest partnership will help Leeds United continue to grow and develop into the team our supporters deserve.
“I have always been open to bringing partners on this journey with me, as long as these actions can benefit the long-term strategy of the club. Paraag and the team at 49ers Enterprises are uniquely positioned to collaborate with myself, [chief executive] Angus Kinnear, [director of football] Victor Orta and our management team to help us achieve our goals.”
In his position on the Leeds board, Marathe will be more involved in the decision-making process and day-to-day operations of the club moving forward, across both the soccer and business sides.
Marathe said: “Our 49ers Enterprises team has always shared Andrea’s vision for constructing a powerful and winning club in the most competitive football league in the world. We are increasing our investment in Leeds United now to support and augment the organisational infrastructure needed to remain competitive in the Premier League.
“We are committed to doing all we can to help the club compete for championships against the best football clubs in the world while providing an elevated supporter experience at Elland Road (Leeds' home stadium).”
Marathe has held a number of strategic leadership positions with the 49ers and is currently executive vice-president of football operations after previously serving as chief operating officer and team president.
Through the new investment, 49ers Enterprises and Aser Ventures will expand their wider business alliance and continue to share investment expertise and networks.
During the three years of collaboration between Leeds, Aser and 49ers Enterprises, the club has enjoyed significant progress on and off the pitch, posting record commercial revenues, as well as winning the second-tier EFL Championship in the 2019-20 season to win promotion.
Radrizzani said: “Now that we have achieved promotion and made a positive start to the new campaign, there is no better time to be looking ahead to the future, as we aim to take this football club to the next level, initially by becoming an established Premier League side before chasing our dreams of taking Leeds United back into Europe.
“We must also be focused on reaching our potential commercially and developing Elland Road and our training facilities.”
Over the past 18 months, reports have periodically linked Leeds with interest from Qatar Sports Investments, a vehicle which controls French soccer giants Paris Saint-Germain.
In 2019, Radrizzani travelled to Doha, Qatar’s capital, for talks with QSI, which has been linked with investing in or buying an English club with potential and rich heritage such as Leeds.
Meanwhile, Manchester City have strengthened their presence in the Chinese market after announcing partnerships with Unilumin Sports, the LED products and solutions provider, and Alipay, the payment app owned by e-commerce giant Alibaba.
Under a new global partnership with Unilumin, announced today, the Premier League club will explore opportunities to develop its pitchside signage and display infrastructure using the company’s technology.
The Shanghai-based brand will use the tie-up to showcase its pitchside LED solutions and to engage with a larger audience.
The deal marks Unilumin’s first partnership with an English Premier League club.
Unilumin has supplied LED solutions for several major sporting events including the Fifa World Cup and the Olympic Games and has a long-term deal with FIBA, basketball’s international governing body, until 2023.
As part of the agreement with Alipay, Manchester City will launch a digital ecommerce and experiences portal on the platform for their Chinese fanbase.
The club will release a ‘mini programme’ on the Alipay app which will offer fans video content, retail products and offers, sign-ups for online and offline events and competitions, as well as prizes including match tickets and kits.
The deal builds on a long-standing relationship between the club and Alibaba.
In previous deals between the two parties, Manchester City launched an official video homepage on Alibaba’s streaming platform Youko in 2013, and launched an official club store on the ecommerce website Tmall International in 2017.