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Mike Ashley is poised to end his seven-year reign at St James' Park as he aims to increase his stake at Rangers.

 

Mike Ashley is willing to listen to offers to sell Newcastle United as he looks to bring an end to a troubled seven-year reign at St James’ Park.

 

Ashley has become involved in the running of Rangers and is interested in taking complete control. However, he has been prevented from increasing his stake to more than 10 per cent by the Scotland Football Association as he already owns Newcastle.

 

Uefa rules stipulate the same person cannot own two clubs that might meet each other in European competitions, and while neither Rangers or Newcastle are playing in Europe, they could in the future.

 

Rangers are standing on the precipice of administration for the second time in three years and Ashley recognises the opportunity it presents. The billionaire, who made his fortune through his Sports Direct retail chain, has already secured naming rights to Ibrox in return for a stake of nine per cent, although he has not yet taken up that option in order to avoid creating any animosity towards him.

 

Should he take control of Rangers and stabilise the business, he knows there is huge potential to grow if, as should be the case, they return to the Scottish Premier League and, eventually, the Champions League.

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That has increased Ashley’s desire to sell Newcastle to a new investor and he could be willing to offload it for around £230 million, which includes repayment of the £129 million he is owed in the form of interest-free loans. Ashley paid just £134 million to buy Newcastle from Sir John Hall and Freddie Shepherd in 2007.

 

Although the club have not been officially put up for sale as the uncertainty could destabilise the business and unsettle the team, Telegraph Sport understands Ashley would like to sell if he can find someone with the financial muscle to take the club forward. Anyone who claims they are interested in negotiating a price will be asked to pay for the use of a box at St James’ Park for 10 years up front to prove they are serious bidders.

 

Ashley has tried to sell up twice before, but was unable to find a buyer willing to match his asking price. He failed to offload it in the face of angry supporter protests in 2008 immediately after former manager Kevin Keegan resigned. He tried again in 2009 at the knockdown price of just £100 million after relegation to the Championship, but nobody was willing to take on a club that was losing hundreds of thousands of pounds a month outside of the top flight.

 

However, the previous attempts to sell were made during a global recession and Ashley is aware the economic landscape has improved dramatically, particularly in the United States, where interest in “soccer” has never been higher. It is thought that Ashley will look closely to see if there are potential buyers on the other side of the Atlantic.

 

Newcastle are in excellent financial shape thanks to the prudency of the Ashley regime and posted a post-tax profit of £9.9 million for the last financial year. That has done little to persuade fans he is the right man to lead the club and there have been persistent accusations of a lack of ambition. Although Ashley sanctioned around £40 million worth of player recruitment this summer, that was paid for almost entirely out of the sale of Yohan Cabaye to Paris Saint-Germain and Mathieu Debuchy to Arsenal.

 

Ashley has been unwilling to invest any of his own money since Newcastle returned to the Premier League and has overseen a dramatic overhaul of the books, securing an increase in commercial revenue, which includes a record shirt-sponsorship deal with loans company Wonga.

 

This has been done in conjunction with a series of cost-cutting measures, including player wages, which fell from £64.1 million to £61.7 million in the last financial year. That represents 64 per cent of the club’s turnover, well below the Premier League average of 70 per cent. The business is in good shape to sell.

 

Whether Ashley can finally sever ties with a project that turned sour after just 12 months remains to be seen, but he gains little enjoyment from owning Newcastle other than the free advertising it allows for Sports Direct. Although he attended the club’s last home game, the 3-3 draw with Crystal Palace, his visits to St James’ Park have been increasingly rare since supporters turned against him six years ago.

 

He is not the only one in the firing line. Alan Pardew, the manager, also looks vulnerable after a poll in a local paper showed 85 per cent of fans no longer want him to be in charge and there is a growing risk the ill-feeling will manifest itself in more vocal protests against Southampton this weekend. One group of supporters has even set up a website called ‘Sack Pardew’. Pardew remained in his dugout during the final home game against Cardiff last season as he was booed and jeered every time he stepped into his technical area.

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/teams/newcastle-united/11088540/Newcastle-United-for-sale-as-Mike-Ashley-eyes-Rangers.html

 

:smokin:

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Those pesky shareholder rights rear their ugly head again!

 

Mike Ashley shuffled in his seat, rubbed his chin, and paused as he pondered his first question from a reporter, possibly ever.

 

Being charitable, you might say the Newcastle United owner and billionaire was thinking carefully.

 

Others might have concluded he was squirming in his deputy chairman seat at the Sports Direct AGM on Wednesday afternoon.

 

The pause, the embarrassing silence, lasted 27 awkward seconds.

 

Fellow board members glanced his way, concerned. But none of his executives jumped in to bail him out.

 

Was he going to walk out of his own AGM, or stay and do what he loathes the most... speak to a journalist?

 

There was no possibility of a quick banning order, like some reporters have suffered at St James’ Park. No chance to negotiate a cash for questions deal, the likes of which he has tried to strike with newspapers for access to interviews with the Magpies' players.

 

Reluctantly Ashley, wearing a Sports Direct polo shirt and jeans among the FTSE 100 suits, spoke.

 

He said: “Other than to say that it’s been beneficial to Sports Direct and therefore its shareholders, I don’t think it’s appropriate to comment.”

 

It was a start.

 

These were his first words on Newcastle United since a 1,600 word written statement following relegation in 2009.

 

I’ve tried to talk to him in the past. First at a pre-season friendly in Majorca in 2008, when he was ushered away. The second time was last year, also in Auditorium D of Sports Direct’s 1 million square metre HQ on Shirebrook, but questions were blocked to non shareholders.

 

This time, I was armed with a magical shareholders’ yellow card, ensuring rights to question the board, and of course, Ashley.

 

This was unusual territory for Ashley, one of the most enigmatic, private, publicity-shunning, successful figures in business.

 

He’s built up Sports Direct from one shop to 24,000 employees and a £2.7 billion turnover. With his spare cash he bought Newcastle, for £134million and gave a £129m interest free loan, while turning it into a profitable club.

 

He’s also bought into Scottish giants Rangers, who are desperate for cash.

 

Newcastle fans, and supporters of Rangers, where he has a 10 per cent stake and secured the naming rights to Ibrox for £1, want questions answered.

 

Like, 'Why do Sports Direct not pay Newcastle United for the dozens of their adverts around St James’ Park?' And, 'How much would that advertising worth if it was sold to another company?'

 

Ashley’s response?

 

“I think I summed it all up in my previous statement. Those relationships are very beneficial to Sports Direct and its shareholders. And I think that nothing else needs to be said.”

 

Will Ibrox be renamed the Sports Direct Arena, like St James’ Park was temporarily?

 

“I’ll only answer the same answer that I answered before,” said Ashley.

 

At one point, Chair Keith Hellawell intervened: “This is really isn’t for the Annual General Meeting of this company. I think in relation to what Manchester United, sorry Newcastle United, and Rangers gain, you’d have to ask them. There’s no-one from the board of those companies here.”

 

Actually, as was then pointed out, there was a board member available... Mike Ashley, the owner.

 

MirrorFootball: “We are talking about a massive company and two of the largest football clubs in Britain. It’s an interesting relationship that’s being forged. As I shareholder I’m exploring the relationship between two very large football institutions and Sports Direct, a very large and successful company. That’s why I’m asking these questions...

 

Hellawell: “I do understand that and I understand your frustration. Please accept we’re trying to be as helpful as we can...”

 

Some detail eventually came from an aide when the AGM has finished.

 

Newcastle’s retail arm, which has been taken over by Sports Direct is worth £3.4m of business the company. That’s £3.4m off Newcastle’s turnover, including whatever profit it brings.

 

Rangers retail business, now in the hands of Sports Direct, is worth £3.8m in turnover.

 

So Ashley has, at last, faced some questions. But more answers are needed to satisfy the supporters of Newcastle and Rangers...

 

Transcript of exchanges between Mike Ashley and reporters at Sports Direct's AGM, regarding Newcastle and Rangers

Q: "I’d like to address a question to Mr Ashley, please. I wonder if he could explain the benefits to Sports Direct in its relationship with Newcastle United and Rangers.

 

Pause of 27 seconds

 

A: “Other than to say than it's been beneficial to Sports Direct and therefore its shareholders, I don't think it’s appropriate to comment.”

 

Q: "Newcastle have said publicly, for example, that Sports Direct don’t pay for any stadium advertising or perimeter advertising at St James' Park - and there’s obviously a lot of it - and I wonder what the benefit is to you and whether you could give a rough estimate of what it’s worth in financial terms please."

 

A: “I think I summed it all up in my previous statement. Those relationships are very beneficial to Sports Direct and its shareholders. And I think that nothing else needs to be said."

 

Q “With due respect, can I then reverse the question. What is the benefit to the relationship they have with Sports Direct for Newcastle United, in which you are the owner, and Rangers, in which you have a shareholding? What is the benefit to those institutions?"

 

Keith Hallawell intervenes:

 

“This is really… That isn’t for the Annual General Meeting of this company. The first question was, in relation to what benefit the company gain from that. I think in relation to what Manchester United, sorry Newcastle United, and Rangers gain, you’d have to ask them. There’s no-one from the board of those companies here. It’s not to do with this company."

 

Q: "Well, there is one member on the board (Ashley)."

 

Another director: “Yes, but this is a Sports Direct annual general meeting."

 

Q: “I know. I’m aware of that. I was just correcting that error. Can I direct a question to Mr Ashley? Sports Direct now process and profit from the shirt sales and merchandising through Newcastle United, the website and the club shop. Can you explain how much this trade is worth? Is it a significant part of the business to Sports Direct and do you, Newcastle, share in that profit?

 

Ashley: “I’ll only answer the same answer as I gave before."

 

Q. "Okay. A follow-up question. A Rangers director stated last week that Mr Ashley had bought the naming rights to Ibrox two years ago for £1. First question, is this true? Second question, St James’ Park was once named Sports Direct Arena and the suggestion is the same could happen to Ibrox. Could he comment on that?

 

A: “I’ll only answer the same answer that I answered before.”

 

Q: “Okay, thank you."

 

Hellawell: “We are really straying beyond the AGM. We’re trying to be helpful."

 

Q: "I would just say the questions are relevant to resolution one in the company accounts and how the company accounts are being boosted by Sports Direct’s very close relationship with Newcastle United and Rangers. That's why we’re exploring this issue."

 

Hellawell: "I think you used the word ‘significant’ didn’t you?"

 

Q: “So are you saying that’s an insignificant relationship between the two?"

 

Hellawell: “If you read the company’s accounts, you can perhaps realise the size of the company and the size of that contribution. That’s all I’ll say."

 

Q: "Perhaps I can ask a follow up? Does Mr Ashley have any plans to increase his shareholding in Rangers to the possible benefit of Sports Direct and its shareholders?"

 

Answer indistinguishable.

 

Q: "We are talking about a massive company and two of the largest football clubs in Britain. It’s an interesting relationship that's being forged. As I shareholder I’m exploring the relationship between two very large football institutions and Sports Direct, a very large and successful company. That’s why I’m asking these questions.

 

Hellawell: “I do understand that and I understand your frustration. Please accept we’re trying to be as helpful as we can, but those are not issues for the Sports Direct board. I think you need to take those up with Newcastle and with… I mean, Mike is an individual but as part of this corporate board now, it’s really not something we can answer."

 

Q: "One not related to football: Tesco, Sainsbury and Morrisons are among the companies who say they don’t use zero hour contracts. Should Sports Direct follow their lead?"

 

A: “I think I’ve answered that in terms of not being able to talk about our employment policy, other than to say we hold them in the highest regard and believe the success of this company is largely based on the contribution they’ve made and we will look out for them as best we can."

 

http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/finally-newcastle-owner-mike-ashley-4197405

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It's interesting how the customers of Sports Direct seem to be as happy as the Newcastle ones:

 

https://www.trustpilot.co.uk/review/www.sportsdirect.com

 

Interesting is how they add on a Sports Direct mug that nobody ever orders and find a way to bill you for it. Maybe the mug is a metaphor for the British public in making him such a success.

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