Southampton Football Club is under new ownership.
Gao Jisheng’s controlling stake has been bought by Sport Republic, a sports investment firm headed up by Serbian billionaire Dragan Solak, for £100 million as first reported by Sky Sports.
Gao bought an 80% stake in Southampton in 2017, but has been looking to sell over the past couple of years.
Rasmus Ankersen, the former Brentford FC and FC Midtjylland executive who led those clubs to success, and Henrik Kraft, a London-based investor, are also involved in Sport Republic’s Saints takeover.
This is the first deal to have been approved by the Premier League since former sports minister Tracey Crouch called for more scrutiny over club takeovers.
Minority shareholder Katharina Liebherr retains the same stake she had while Gao was the majority owner. Martin Semmens, CEO of Southampton FC, will continue in his role.
Along with Southampton, it’s expected that Sport Republic are looking to invest in clubs in other international leagues, adopting the strategy of the City Group that owns Manchester City, New York City Football Club and other teams.
Earlier this afternoon, the news was confirmed by the club in an official press release.
Statement from Semmens:
“Over the last two years, together with the shareholders of our club, we have searched for the right partner to take the club forward. Today we have found the perfect solution for our club.
“Sport Republic are experienced investors, but also experienced within the world of elite professional sports. That combination is very hard to find, and we are thrilled to have reached an agreement that secures our short and long-term future.
“We are grateful for the support of Mr Gao and Katharina that allowed us to take our time, turn away the wrong options and ultimately find the right partner for the future of this great club, its fans, staff and the people of Southampton.
“Today we welcome a new beginning with a new ownership group. We have found partners with ambition for the future, but with a clear understanding of what Southampton stands for and the direction we must go in now. The strategy is to push forward with the plans we have had in place over the last two years, but with their support we can now do this with a renewed focus and speed. Continuity, stability, and clarity of the way forward are equally as important as the new initiatives and ideas we can now bring to the club.
“Sport Republic is being built to provide a network of people, clubs, and technology that allows the clubs within it to grow every day and gain the advantages you need to be successful. As a club, we have never wanted to buy success, but to earn it. Sport Republic gives us the power to improve our operations at every level, helping us to reach for the success our staff work so hard for, and our fans crave.
“Everyone at Southampton welcomes Dragan, Henrik, Rasmus and the people within Sport Republic to our great club. We searched the world for good people with the ambition and resources to lead us into the next era and I am happy to confirm we have found them. We can’t wait to get started and be part of the future of Sport Republic.”
Statement from Lead Investor of Sport Republic, Dragan Solak:
“My partners and I have experience in long-term investments in the sports and entertainment industry and Sport Republic has been founded to combine this expertise and deliver something unique to the market. Southampton has so many of the qualities we have been looking for in a major sports organisation. It has a great management team, excellent talent development, talented teams playing attractive football and a dedicated fan base. We are delighted to be able to complete this acquisition as a first step towards execution of our investment strategy. Southampton will be a cornerstone of the organisation we plan to build.”
Statement from The Chairman of Sport Republic, Henrik Kraft:
“We will be an active and engaged owner, but we will not be starting any revolutions. We were attracted to Southampton because it is already a well-run club that follows a clearly defined strategy.
“Southampton’s CEO Martin Semmens will continue to run the day-to-day operations of the club, and Sport Republic will be working closely with him and his team to help the club grow.
“Whilst Southampton is Sport Republic’s first acquisition, we expect more investments to follow over the coming years. Our ambition is to build a portfolio of high-influence stakes in football clubs and other sporting assets across the world.
“At the same time, we will also invest in early-stage sports technology companies and use our portfolio to accelerate the development of these companies. The acquisition of Southampton is a great first step and we are very excited about the journey ahead.”