Football: in Saint-Étienne, the endless sale of the club



Christmas is fast approaching but there will probably not be a new owner under the AS Saint-Étienne tree. Two days before welcoming FC Nantes to Geoffroy-Guichard on behalf of the last day of the first part of the championship, the Greens have still not found the hoped-for buyer.

→ STORY The Greens close to relegation and club sale

On April 13, the co-presidents Roland Romeyer and Bernard Caïazzo had nevertheless stated their intention to sell the club. A mission entrusted to the Anglo-Dutch investment bank KPMG. Leaders hoped the operation would be completed before the end of the calendar year. Without success.

Aborted sales attempts

Disillusionment was still great on November 23, when KPMG refused two takeover plans. The first was worn by Olivier Markarian, a 50-year-old businessman from Drôme, member of the supervisory board and official sponsor of the club for seventeen years through his company Markal.

The second was led by an investment fund based in Switzerland, drawing on Chinese and American investors. A project that has long remained in the shadows and embodied by Jean-Michel Roussier, media man and former president of Olympique de Marseille (1995-1999), and Mathieu Bodmer, ex-midfielder who went to Forez in 2013. In both cases, the same conclusion: “The legal and financial guarantees provided by the candidates are insufficient”, the club said in a statement.

These failures are reminiscent of the abortive sale of the club in May 2018. The Stéphanois leaders had yet entered into “Exclusive negotiations” with the American investment fund Peak6. The affair ended up failing: the American buyer was ready to put between 40 and 50 million euros when the Saint-Etienne shareholders hoped to recover around 80 million euros.

Stalled process

Three years later, the process has not progressed much. “The paradox is that AS Saint-Étienne always has arguments to make, observes Pierre Rondeau, sports economist. It is a historic French football cluband not very much in debt. “ The club ten times champion of France – a record – is even one of the few in France“To have been profitable from a financial point of view”, adds Mickaël Terrien, professor of sports economics at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland.

How, then, can we explain that this sale goes on forever? “It is often at the level of the offers that the shoe pinches, advance Mickaël Terrien. The entry ticket to take over a Ligue 1 club is so high that we are increasingly dealing with investment funds. “ Favoring financial strategies based on debt, “These funds are not always able to show that they have the money to buy a club”, explains the professor.

Loss of value, the fault of sporting results at half mast

Valued at 93 million euros according to the figures communicated for the 2019-2020 season, AS Saint-Étienne has lost its value in recent months. “The club is objectively worth between 40 and 60 million euros, but we must also take into account the dynamics of the market”, considers Pierre Rondeau. Blame it on a catastrophic sporting situation: the Greens are currently good last in Ligue 1 and their future in the elite of French football is written in dotted lines. “Relegation to Ligue 2 represents a loss of income of 30% to 40%, indicates Mickaël Terrien. This makes the club much less attractive to potential buyers. “

The sporting debacle confronts Presidents Romeyer and Caïazzo with a dilemma: to buy, potentially at a loss, new players in the winter transfer window to try to snatch the maintenance in Ligue 1 or not to invest but to take the risk of seeing the club go down and still lose its value. “The context, marked by the Mediapro affair and the TV rights fiasco as well as the violence in the stands, does not reassure investors”, Pierre Rondeau also adds.

The two-headed Saint-Etienne presidency is therefore perhaps no longer in such a hurry to sell. By June 2022, the LFP should have created its trading company, allowing it to inject nearly 1.5 billion euros into French football. The Saint-Etienne shareholders hope to recover their share. “This money, combined with a maintenance, would allow them to maximize the value of the club, Pierre Rondeau analysis. But that’s a distant prospect. “

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New offers under study

New offers have arrived on the office of Saint-Etienne shareholders. Among them, the project of Russian billionaire Sergei Lomakin, boss of Total Sports Investments LLP, a company that owns several clubs in Europe. The oligarch was present during the match against PSG on November 28 and visited the club’s facilities. Two other offers are emerging: that of the private American investment company 777 Partners and that of the American investment fund Terrapin Partners. Olivier Markarian reaffirmed that he was still a candidate and that he had the support of Serge Bueno, another local businessman.

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