Newcastle United Officially Sold to Saudi-Backed Ownership Group in $415M Deal

Doric SamOctober 7, 2021

A general view of Newcastle United supporters waiting outside the stadium for news of the latest developments in the sale of the club to the Saudi sovereign wealth fund for 300 million-pound ($408 million) takeover in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England Thursday Oct. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
AP Photo/Scott Heppell

The Newcastle United Football Club announced Thursday it has officially been sold to an ownership group with ties to Saudi Arabia.

The team was sold for $415 million (£305 million), per The Telegraph's Uche Amako. The investment group is led by the Public Investment Fund (PIF) and also comprises PCP Capital Partners and RB Sports & Media.

An agreement was originally reached in April 2020, but the PIF—a state investment fund overseen by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman—failed to pass the Premier League's owners' and directors' test at the time. Prior to the completion of the sale, the Premier League had to receive legal assurances regarding the ownership of the team.

The Premier League said in a statement: "The legal disputes concerned which entities would own and/or have the ability to control the club following the takeover. ... The Premier League has now received legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United Football Club."

The sale to a Saudi Arabia-led investment group is sure to ignite controversy, considering the country's human rights record and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, was vocally critical of the Saudi government and his murder was found by the U.S. intelligence community to have been directly ordered by bin Salman.

The move was met with opposition from human rights groups, most notably Amnesty International. Prior to the acquisition becoming official, Amnesty International chief executive Sacha Deshmukh said on Wednesday that his organization had "urged the Premier League to change their owners' and directors' test to address human rights issues," per the BBC.

Amnesty International warned the Premier League that Saudi Arabia is attempting to fix its reputation by "sportswashing."

"As with Formula One, elite boxing, golf or tennis, an association with top-tier football is a very attractive means of rebranding a country or person with a tarnished reputation," Deshmukh said. "The Premier League needs to better understand the dynamic of sportswashing and tighten its ownership rules."

Multiple reports say the finalization of the deal was facilitated by the end of a longstanding piracy dispute with Qatar-based broadcaster beIN Sports, which owns rights to show Premier League matches in the Middle East. The broadcaster had been banned in Saudi Arabia, but its content was then allegedly pirated by a Saudi-state-run broadcaster beoutQ.

After beIN Corporation launched an international investment arbitration against Saudi Arabia seeking damages of more than $1 billion, the Saudis reportedly sought to reach a settlement. The Premier League was able to focus on settling its other disputes with Saudi Arabia once the broadcast rights were no longer an issue.

Newcastle United expressed its satisfaction with the acquisition, saying in a press release that the deal "benefits all stakeholders and will leave Newcastle United well-placed to pursue a clear, long-term strategy"

"We are extremely proud to become the new owners of Newcastle United, one of the most famous clubs in English football," Yasir Al-Rumayyan, Governor of PIF, said in the press release. "We thank the Newcastle fans for their tremendously loyal support over the years and we are excited to work together with them."

Newcastle United is winless in the 2021-22 Premier League season with three draws and four losses. The club will be back in action Oct. 17 against Tottenham Hotspur.