By Valentina Za
MILAN (Reuters) – AS Roma is in talks with a group led by U.S. billionaire Dan Friedkin looking to buy the Italian Serie A soccer club, it said on Monday
Europe’s top soccer clubs have attracted big money from some of the world’s richest investors over the past decade as the game draws more fans and television revenue in lucrative markets such as Asia, the United States and the Middle East.
The proposed deal is the latest soccer foray by a U.S. investor after Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi-controlled owner in November sold a $500 million stake in the English club to U.S. private equity firm Silver Lake.
In June American billionaire Rocco Commisso bought Serie A club ACF Fiorentina from Italy’s Della Valle family for a reported sum of about 160 million euros.
Press reports said Friedkin would pay between 750 million and 790 million euros ($840 million to $884 million), including debt, for an 82% stake in AS Roma.
The club made a loss of 24 million euros on revenue of 233 million euros in the financial year to June 30. Net debt amounted to 221 million euros.
Shares in AS Roma shot up more than 9% at the open in Milan on Monday but pared gains to stand 4.4% up at 1226 GMT.
“Any deal with Group Friedkin is subject to the positive outcome of the legal due diligence process on the AS Roma group,” the club said in a statement.
AS Roma last changed hands in 2012 when it was taken over by a group of U.S. investors led by James Pallotta, who became the club’s president.
Pallotta, a U.S. businessman of Italian descent, failed to revive the fortunes of the club, which won the last of its three Serie A titles in 2001.
AS Roma idol Francesco Totti, a former captain of the club who won the World Cup with Italy in 2006, left as technical director in June, complaining he had never been given a proper role during his two years on the management team and had been excluded from key decisions.
He said he would be ready to return to the club if Pallotta left.
Having missed out on UEFA Champions League qualification after finishing sixth in Serie A last season, when Juventus won their eighth consecutive title, AS Roma are in the second-tier Europa League. They have reached the knockout stages and next play Belgian side KAA Gent for a place in the last 16.
AS Roma’s current owners have been trying to sell the club for a while, holding talks with various potential buyers amid growing frustration with local authorities over a stalled project to build a new stadium.
Friedkin is chairman and CEO of the eponymous group with assets ranging from luxury resorts to one of the world’s largest independent Toyota distributors, serving 150 dealerships in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas.
Reuters was unable to reach the Friedkin group for immediate comment.
For a FACTBOX on ownership of European soccer clubs, click on($1 = 0.8939 euros)
(Reporting by Valentina Za; Editing by Susan Fenton and David Goodman)