There could be a large media group as the promoter of Italy’s Serie a soccer team Udinese Calcio‘s growth in the coming years. According to what has been revealed in recent days by Il Sole 24 Ore, in fact, Gino and Giampaolo Pozzo, owners of Udinese Calcio since 1986, are reportedly in advanced discussions to cede control of the club to Group Nine Acquisition Corp (GNAC), a US Spac promoted at the time by media group Group Nine Media, which listed on the NYSE in January 2021 after raising 230 million dollars (see here the press release at the time).
GNAC, moreover, has since last May been controlled by 890 5th Avenue Partners LLC, which bought from Group Nine Media 70% of GNAC’s shares reserved for promoters (see the filing with the SEC here). 890 5th Avenue Partners LLC was in turn formed by the same team of promoters as 890 5th Avenue Partners Inc, the Spac that in 2021 brought to listing on Nasdaq BuzzFeed a leading global tech media platform that reaches hundreds of millions of people worldwide through its multiplatform news and entertainment network (see the press release at the time here). 890 5th Avenue Partners Inc in turn had listed on Nasdaq in January 2021 after raising 250 million from investors (see the press release at the time here).
None of these talks between the Pozzo family and the potential US investors are official yet, but the market buzz is persistent. Back in late October, but without naming the Spac involved, the specialized online news site The Athletic had revealed of negotiations between the Pozzo family and a US Spac to divest Udinese and a stake (rumored to be 10%) in Watford, a British soccer team itself controlled by the Pozzo family since 2012.
Udinese, which is reportedly valued at 200 million dollars, had closed the 2020-2021 season’s budget with 107.8 million euros in revenues (driven by 28.9 million in capital gains from player disposals) and an ebitda of 29.8 million, but with a net loss of 36.9 million, adding to the previous season’s net loss of 10 million, against, however, a net worth of 196.3 million (see the full 2021 budget here). As for debt, we recall that in June 2021 Udinese Calcio raised financing for a total of 20 million euros through the Italian fintech platform Azimut Direct (formerly Epic), of which 15 million through a bond maturing in March 2026 and another 5 million through a loan, both backed by SACE’s Italian Government Guarantee, with a five-year term and underwritten by institutional investors (see here a previous article by BeBeez). This had been the second financing from alternative sources within a few months for the team, which in October 2020 had obtained a 5 million euro in direct lending from an institutional investor, later increased to 7.5 millions in November. The loan proceeds had been used to finance the purchase of new players and to meet working capital needs; that transaction had been one of the first collaborations between Azimut Group and Epic (see here a previous article by BeBeez). At the end of June 2021, the total gross exposure to banks was 46.7 million euro, to which were added, as mentioned, the 15 million euro in bonds, while cash and cash equivalents were 53.2 million, so on the team’s accounts there was net liquidity of 8.5 million.
For its part, Watford has already received some buyout offers in the past years. Most notably, in 2018 from the US-based Prolific Media Holdings and then from the Orlegi Group, which already owns two Mexican teams and recently acquired Sporting Gijon in Spain. But nothing ever materialized thereafter. Finally, a year ago there were rumors that the Australian Macquarie Bank might decide to sell its 50 million pounds 5.35 % coupon 5-year maturity loan, just issued to the team, to a third investor who at the same time also might decide to invest in equity (see here The Atlethic). Watford today is said to be valued at about 140 million pounds, which could rise to 200 million in the event of promotion to the Premier League. The club is currently in tenth place in the Championship.