TPG 'keen to enlist ex-BBC executive Coles to lead £300m EFL bid'
A US investment firm seeking to pump £300 million ($390 million) into English soccer’s second-tier English Football League is looking to bring Dominic Coles, a former executive with the BBC, the UK public-service broadcaster, on board to head up its plan to take control of the competition’s commercial operations, it has been reported.
San Francisco-based private equity company TPG Capital is working with Coles (pictured), who steered the BBC’s coverage of the London Olympic Games in 2012, on its attempt to buy a 20 per cent stake in the EFL’s commercial rights arm, according to Sky News.
The broadcaster reports that Coles has been working with TPG for months in the hope of concluding a deal with the EFL, which comprises the Championship, League One and League Two.
It is believed that the EFL's board, led by chairman Rick Parry, has already rejected an initial approach from TPG although some club owners and chairmen have approached the company directly with the intention of exploring the offer.
People with knowledge of the situation told Sky that TPG and Coles had drawn up detailed plans to create a new operational service centre that would assist the EFL in areas such as ticketing, merchandising, security, data analytics and customer relationship management.
As part of the proposal, a significant portion of the £300 million investment would be paid upfront to clubs whose finances have been severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
TPG wants to use the remaining funds to invest in “longer-term growth initiatives aimed at improving the financial health of clubs whose ability to professionalise their back-office functions has been stymied by their size,” according to Sky.
The firm is also understood to believe the EFL’s media rights are undervalued and is confident it could negotiate substantially improved domestic and international deals when they come up for renewal.
TPG will also look to maximise the potential of the EFL’s new streaming service. iFollow.
The structure would be similar to that put together by UK-based private equity firm CVC Capital Partners at Premiership Rugby, English rugby union's top flight.
It is reported that Coles has already lined up a larger team of executives to work with him on the project as he and TPG believe they can improve the financial outlook of the EFL post-pandemic.
Many clubs across the EFL pyramid have argued that they face bankruptcy if they do not receive financial support and if games continue to be played without fans in attendance.
EFL was in support of a controversial restructuring proposal of English soccer put forward by top-flight giants Liverpool and Manchester United.
Dubbed ‘Project Big Picture’, the scheme envisaged a reduction to 18 clubs in the elite league and the scrapping of the EFL Cup and Community Shield, plus an immediate financial aid package of £250 million and a 25 per cent share of future revenue for the EFL, and £100 million for the FA.
However, the proposal was rejected by other Premier League clubs and also came in for criticism from the Football Association and the UK government.
The Premier League subsequently wrote to the EFL to offer a £50 million financial aid package to Leagues One and Two, only for this to be rejected as it was deemed insufficient and did not include the Championship clubs.
During his time at the BBC, Coles negotiated sports rights deals and worked as the corporation's director of operations, as well as in senior posts in its news and nations divisions.
He left in 2014 to take a senior job at Discovery Networks International, an arm of the US media giant.
Earlier this year, he was appointed chairman of GB Sport Media, a new digital broadcast platform owned by the UK governing bodies of the 28 summer Olympic sports.
TPG has previously invested in several businesses including a recent acquisition of Goal, the soccer website, from DAZN, the international over-the-top subscription platform, and CAA, the US entertainment and talent agency.
Meanwhile, the EFL has defended its approach to betting and close relationship with the industry despite growing scrutiny in the country around gambling in sports.
Following a report by the Sunday Times yesterday which suggested that gambling sponsorship is going to be banned, the EFL released a statement and underlined its duties in maintaining that betting advertising and sponsorships across its leagues and competitions had been undertaken in a responsible fashion.
The UK government has pledged to review the 2005 Gambling Act, which lifted previously strict regulations on the industry and led to betting firms having an increased presence in soccer.
The review could lead to major restrictions on the activities of bookmakers in the sport, which could include a reduction in shirt sponsorships.
In the Premier League, where there is also a strong betting presence, its chief executive Richard Masters vowed to defend the rights of teams to have betting companies as shirt sponsors, with 10 of the 20 having had such deals in the 2019-20 season.
The EFL is also willing to throw the same support behind its clubs, while the league itself has a naming rights deal with Sky Bet.
In its statement, the EFL said: “The association between football and the gambling sector is long-standing, with a collaborative, evidence-based approach to preventing gambling harms of much greater benefit than that of a blanket ban of any kind.”
The EFL said the betting sector contributes around £40 million per season to the league and its clubs and added: “The significant contribution betting companies make to the ongoing financial sustainability of professional football at all levels is as important now as it has ever been, particularly given the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic which is leaving many of our clubs living on a financial knife edge.”
At present, 11 of the 24 EFL Championship clubs have betting companies as front-of-shirt sponsors.
The EFL outlined its work in creating several campaigns with Sky Bet, in which players and clubs across its three divisions promoted safer gambling awareness and public education of compulsive betting behaviours, with 70 per cent of betting’s matchday inventory dedicated to responsible messaging.