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Investment group backed by Facebook’s founder considering bid to buy Tottenham Hotspur

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Levy out, Zuck in?

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Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool - Premier League
Spurs owner Joe Lewis, left, and chairman Daniel Levy, right, watch from the stands at White Hart Lane in this file photo from 2014.
Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

A California-based wealth management group that is backed in part by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is considering placing a huge bid to purchase Tottenham Hotspur, according to the Sunday Times of London.

Iconiq Capital is a global “investment advisory firm” based in San Francisco and led by a South African-born Indian man named Divesh Makan. Makan is described by Forbes as “consigliere” to a number of large Silicon Valley companies and investors, and his firm’s biggest client is none other than Facebook founder Zuckerberg, whom he met in 2004.

Now, according to the Times, Iconiq is considering a huge bid of £1b to purchase Spurs from Joe Lewis and ENIC, but Lewis is apparently not yet willing to sell, holding out for a bid of closer to £2bn. Lewis and ENIC purchased a controlling interest in Tottenham Hotspur in 2001 for around £40m.

To be clear, this is not Mark Zuckerberg potentially buying Tottenham Hotspur, but it is his wealth management group, and it’s not a stretch to say that if the deal were to go through he could have significant influence as to how the club is run.

If you’re thinking that this sounds like the biggest nothing story ever considering the vague “considering” and “holding out for” language, you’re not wrong, but that’s often how the purchase of huge assets like football clubs get done. There’s often a long process of discussion and negotiation before formal bids are even offered, and it’s not unusual for large investment groups like Iconiq to kick the tires for a while and then decide to walk away.

That happened in 2014 when another American investment firm, Cain Hoy, also was interested in buying Spurs, back when £1bn was considered a ludicrous amount of money to spend for a north London football club. Cain Hoy sniffed around the club for a while, and eventually faded back into the depths like sharks searching for better prey. Another investment firm backed by Guggenheim did something similar that same year, apparently considering Lewis’ valuation of the club too high.

Then last season there were reports that a consortium that included Chinese investors and American sports agent Jeff Moorad was considering purchasing shares in the club to become part owner and give Spurs a needed cash boost. That story too faded into the background, and it’s not clear whether Moorad’s consortium was ever able to invest in Tottenham Hotspur.

It seems unlikely that Lewis would consider selling the club this season without a ridiculous bid. With Spurs in the middle of building its new stadium, the club is at a major turning point and is poised for a huge increase in growth and prestige. The Premier League is also rolling in cash with television revenues increasing seemingly every season. That makes Premier League clubs in general and Tottenham in particular attractive to new investors who are looking to get into football club ownership, but there’s every reason to think that Lewis will be able to maximize his investment in Spurs if he waits a little while longer.

Lewis and ENIC will eventually sell. Lewis is a businessman and £2bn would represent a 5000% return on his investment. That’s pretty darned good, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Lewis would consider the opening of the new stadium as a good time to cash in. A change in ownership would probably result in Daniel Levy resigning and a new chairman taking over as well, and considering Levy’s excellent stewardship of the club that’s enough to give many fans a little bit of a pause.

Details are sketchy on this potential bid from Iconiq, but as the club continues to grow, Zuckerberg’s wealth management group probably won’t be the only ones interested in owning a piece of Tottenham Hotspur. For now there doesn’t seem to be much THERE there, but don’t be surprised if Tottenham continues to look like a prime asset for a takeover bid in the medium future.

Update: So that escalated quickly. Hours after this report emerged in the Sunday Times, the club put out an official statement denying that they are in any discussions about a club takeover.

The Club engaged Rothschild to secure the funding for the new stadium. As expected many proposals came forward including bank debt and equity investment. The Club announced on 31 May 2017 the completion of the bank debt financing for the new stadium with a consortium of banks involving Bank of America Merrill Lynch International Limited, Goldman Sachs Bank USA and HSBC Bank plc. The Board believes this was the optimum solution in the interests of fans, employees and shareholders and for the continued development of the Club. The Board is not in any discussions relating to a takeover offer for the Club.