Browns owner Randy Lerner begins takeover of Aston Villa

Lerner would be the fourth foreign owner of a Premier League club.

sportsman2 298 (photo credit: )
sportsman2 298
(photo credit: )
Another National Football League team owner - and American billionaire - is set to take over an English soccer club. Randy Lerner, who owns the Cleveland Browns, put in a 62.6 million ($118.8 million) bid Monday to buy Aston Villa, one of the oldest clubs in English soccer. The board of the Birmingham-based team recommended the transaction to shareholders, and said owners of 56.85 percent of the shares were committed to the deal. Lerner is expected to take over as owner within months. "The basis for acquiring Aston Villa is that it is a storied club dating from the 1870s with periods of treasured memories and glory," Lerner said. "Currently it faces the need for reinvestment in a variety of areas which many of its competitors have underway or have completed in recent years. "The opportunity to be a part of strengthening Villa's business operations and facilities represents a broad set of challenges that I'm eager to take on." Last year, Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer took over at Manchester United, one of the most popular teams in the world. Villa chairman Doug Ellis, who has run the Premier League club for more than 30 years and owns 39% of the stock, put the team up for sale last year. Lerner's takeover vehicle, Reform Acquisitions Ltd., offered 547 pence ($10.37) per Aston Villa share, the principals announced to the London Stock Exchange on Monday. That represents a premium of about 47% more than the closing price on September 16, 2005, the last day before the offer period. Many English soccer teams are listed on the stock market in order to raise money from investors. Lerner, the former chairman of credit card giant MBNA, took over as the Browns principal owner following the death of his father in 2002. Through MBNA, he's had extensive business dealings in Britain. Villa, established in 1874, is one of only four English teams to win the European Cup - Europe's top club competition. The team has slumped recently, however, and hasn't won the English league title since 1981. Villa, which opens its 2006/07 season at Arsenal on Saturday, posted a loss of 8.89m in the last full financial year, and lost 1.17m the year before. "It's a club with a rich pedigree but in recent decades, it's been a bit thin on success," said Stephen Jones, a Birmingham-based investment manager with Brewin Dolphin Securities. "For a Premier League club, its finances are pretty solid." Potts said Glazer and Lerner targeted English soccer clubs in a bid to boost the appeal of the sport and the league in the United States. "[English soccer has] never been able to crack the lucrative US market," Potts said. "Many times it's been tried, and failed." Potts said targeting the US market could "revolutionize the game of football and take it from being the English Premier League... and turn it into the global club league." Lerner would be the fourth foreign owner of a Premier League club. Chelsea has been revolutionized since Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich took over the club two years ago and invested part of his fortune to buy a team of superstars. The Blues have won the last two league titles. Last month, another Russian, Alexandre Gaydamak, who is the son of Betar Jerusalem owner Arkadi Gaydamamk, took over at Portsmouth.