Owners of AS Roma seek new buyers after collapse of €750m sale

The owners of Italy’s AS Roma are searching for new buyers for the Serie A football club after a planned €750m sale collapsed due to the pandemic, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter.

AS Roma’s existing ownership group, which includes the club’s president James Pallotta, are working with bankers at Goldman Sachs as they seek fresh bids, these people said.

The search comes after a deal clinched late last year with Texas-based billionaire Daniel Friedkin fell apart in recent months, they added.

Goldman has reached out to several potential buyers, including wealthy clients and Wall Street investors, but has not received any firm offers. Goldman declined to comment and AS Roma did not respond to a request for comment. 

The collapse of the deal represents the latest fallout from the suspension of football fixtures in the wake of the coronavirus emergency.

Even with Serie A matches due to resume on June 20, steep falls in revenues for clubs in Europe’s top leagues due to lost broadcasting, sponsorship and ticketing income this season have made it difficult for investors to assess the value of teams.

Two people close to Mr Friedkin, whose family owns the Gulf States Toyota Distributors car dealership franchise and other business interests, said that the US billionaire made a revised offer of €575m in late May, which was rebuffed on May 28 by Mr Pallotta. 

These people added that Mr Friedkin offered to pay in instalments beginning with €125m at signing. After that he would have paid a further €52m over six months and €85m by the end of the year. They added that he would have also covered €300m in debts by the end of the year and would have covered minority interests in the club with an extra €13m.

Mr Friedkin would be open to re-engage with Mr Pallotta, said a person close to the US billionaire, who added, however, that he was not going to put more money on the table. 

“He’s not a hothead. If Jim changes his mind and comes back willing to do a deal Dan will sit down with him,” this person said.

One person close to AS Roma refuted the idea that there had been a counter offer and questioned whether Mr Friedkin had the money secured to pursue any transaction. This person added that conversations with other bidders continued and that there was no certainty a deal would be reached. 

One adviser to AS Roma said that several people within the club were dismayed by Mr Pallotta’s decision to walk away from the deal. “It was a risky move to reject €575m,” the person said. 

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Joseph DaGrosa, a US private equity investor whose General American Capital Partners investment group sold its stake in French club Bordeaux last year, is among those considering a bid for AS Roma. A representative for Mr DaGrosa did not respond to a request for comment.

While resuming fixtures in Serie A, Italy’s top division, will protect broadcasting deals, ticketing income is set to fall, with spectators unable to attend stadiums due to social distancing restrictions. Revenue across the division is expected to drop by €400m this season, according to consultancy Deloitte.

Mr Pallotta’s attempts to invest in the club and increase revenues faced challenges before the coronavirus-induced crisis. AS Roma’s plans to build a €300m stadium outside the capital city have been thwarted over the past four years by a number of issues, including a corruption investigation.

Serie A is considering measures to provide more financial assistance to clubs, including engaging in talks with private equity firms CVC Capital Partners and Bain Capital about selling a minority stake in the competition.