Monday, August 14, 2006

A football team buys a football team.

Group headed by Browns owner buys Aston Villa

They both call it "football"

Aston Villa
Cleveland Browns
Playing since: 1874 1946
Recent finish 16th, Premier League 4th, AFC North
Glory Days Early English soccer dynasty with 6 titles, 5 FA cups pre-WWI; beat Bayern Munich in '82 Euro final. Paul Brown, Otto Graham and Jim Brown. Enough said.
Home city Industrial hub with surprisingly hip downtown. Industrial hub with surprisingly hip downtown.
Last won title: 1981 1964
Stadium Villa Park, Birmingham. "The Dawg Pound."
Fans Sports Guy says: "By all accounts, they have the most miserable, self-loathing fan base in the [Premier League.]" Loyal, passionate, given to tossing dog treats at opposition.
Bitter rivals Birmingham City Pittsburgh Steelers
Most painful moment(s) Relegated to Third Division, 1969. "The Drive" and "The Fumble."
Ozzy Is Everywhere Birmingham: Home town of Ozzy, Black Sabbath. Cleveland: Home of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

LONDON -- Another billionaire NFL owner is set to take over an English soccer club.

Cleveland Browns' owner Randy Lerner put in a $118.8 million bid Monday to buy Aston Villa, one of the oldest clubs in English soccer. Last year, Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer took over Manchester United, one of the world's most popular soccer teams.

The Aston Villa board 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 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. "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."

Villa chairman Doug Ellis, who has run the Birmingham-based club for more than 30 years and owns 39 percent of the stock, put the team up for sale last year.

Lerner's takeover vehicle, Reform Acquisitions Ltd., offered $10.37 per share, the principals announced to the London Stock Exchange on Monday. That represents a premium of about 47 percent more than the closing price on Sept. 16, 2005, the last day before the offer period. Many English soccer teams are listed on the stock market 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.

As a young man, Lerner served as equipment manager for the Cleveland Cobras of the American Soccer League.

"I never picked up so many smelly uniforms, socks and towels in my life," Lerner said in 2004 when recalling his first venture into pro sports. "I liked sports and my dad knew the Cobras owner, so he figured this would be a good learning experience for me, to start at the basic level."

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, took over at Portsmouth.

Villa, which opens the 2006-07 season at Arsenal on Saturday, posted a loss of $16.8 million in the last full financial year, and lost $2.2 million 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."

Villa, established in 1874, is one of only four English teams to win the European Cup -- Europe's top club competition. The team has struggled recently and hasn't won the English Premier League title since 1981.

"It's inevitable they will have to go out and spend, given that they haven't won the league in more than 20 years and finished close to the relegation zone last season," said Henk Potts, an equity strategist with Barclays Capital.

The bottom three clubs in the 20-team English Premier League get demoted to a lower division each season.

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.

Targeting the U.S. market could "revolutionize the game of football and take it from being the English Premier League ... and turn it into the global club league," he said.


So the Browns owner is going to buy a soccer team that has won since 1980, maybe that can transfer some karma to the city of Cleveland.

Not this year though,


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