(Reuters) - The proposed takeover of Premier League club Newcastle United by a Saudi Arabian-backed consortium has collapsed after the group announced on Thursday they were ending their interest in the deal.
The group, which included Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund PIF, PCP Capital Partners and Reuben Brothers, was reported to have made a 300 million pounds ($391 million) bid to buy United from British businessman Mike Ashley.
“With a deep appreciation for the Newcastle community and the significance of its football club, we have come to the decision to withdraw our interest in acquiring Newcastle United Football Club,” the group said in a statement.
“We do so with regret, as we were excited and fully committed to invest in the great city of Newcastle and believe we could have returned the Club to the position of its history, tradition and fans’ merit.
“Unfortunately, the prolonged process under the current circumstances coupled with global uncertainty has rendered the potential investment no longer commercially viable,” they added.
The Premier League’s board had been carrying out an examination of the proposed takeover as part of its “owners and directors test”, which evaluates the suitability of ownership groups.
However, the league’s CEO Richard Masters suggested last month that the proposed takeover had become complicated.
“Ultimately, during the unforeseeably prolonged process, the commercial agreement between the Investment Group and the club’s owners expired and our investment thesis could not be sustained,” the group added.
The investor group said that the situation had been complicated by a lack of clarity on the circumstances under which the next season would start and new norms that would arise for matches, training and other activities.
“As often occurs with proposed investments in uncertain periods, time itself became an enemy of the transaction, particularly during this difficult phase marked by the many real challenges facing us all from Covid-19,” the group said.
One of the issues raised by critics of the proposed deal was Saudi Arabia’s response to cases of unauthorised broadcasting of Premier League games in the country.
Last month, a World Trade Organization panel told Saudi Arabia it had breached global rules on intellectual property rights by failing to prosecute a pirate broadcaster of sports and movies in a dispute with Gulf neighbour Qatar regarding the BeoutQ channel, which broadcast Premier League games.
Human rights groups had also been critical of the proposed deal.
The collapse of the takeover leaves Ashley in continued control of Newcastle, although British media reports have suggested there may be a rival bid from an American businessman, Henry Mauriss.
Mauriss has not responded to requests for comment from Reuters.
($1 = 0.7658 pounds)
Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; Editing by Jon Boyle, Hugh Lawson and Christian Radnedge