An American billionaire, who owns an English Premier League team and an NHL franchise, has expressed interest in taking control of the proposed new Auckland A-League outfit.
The licence for the expansion team, which is set to launch in the 2024-2025 season, has been up for grabs since March when Australian Professional Leagues (APL) chief executive Danny Townsend confirmed that Auckland and Canberra were the priority venues for two new teams.
As first revealed by the Herald on Tuesday, the Auckland licence looked headed for a local consortium, headed by Breaker minority shareholder and American tech entrepreneur Marc Mitchell and former ASB Classic boss Karl Budge, with a range of business, sporting and football identities involved.
But a recent overseas bid linked with an EPL club has changed the equation, as APL weighs up the merits of both.
Companies owned by American insurance and wine tycoon William Foley II are behind the offer.
The 78-year-old Foley owns a controlling interest in EPL club Bournemouth AFC and is the majority owner of the Vegas Golden Knights, who won the Stanley Cup in 2022.
Foley’s companies also own several other second-tier sports franchises in the United States.
Foley has business links with this country, as the owner of several wineries under his global umbrella company (Foley Family Wines), as well as Wharekauhau Lodge north of Wellington, where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge famously stayed in 2014.
His New Zealand operations employ around 500 staff, centred around wineries in Martinborough, Marlborough and Central Otago.
Foley, along with some other investors, spent around US$500 million ($840 million) to purchase an NHL expansion licence in 2016, the culmination of a two-year plan.
Last December Foley and a consortium (Black Knight Football and Entertainment) which included Black Panther and Creed star Michael B. Jordan staked around 150 GBP million ($300 million) to purchase Bournemouth AFC.
Foley and BKFE subsequently purchased a 33 per cent stake in French Ligue One team FC Lorient. A statement at the time said they were attracted to Ligue One due to the quality of its academies, which would suggest that FC Lorient would be used to develop players for Bournemouth.
Foley’s companies have also been linked to clubs in Belgium and Brazil. Like other multi-club owners, Foley will look to use vertical integration to take a pyramid approach, with Bournemouth at the top. In a short time, he has become a popular figure at the Cherries, due to his willingness to invest in players.
He has also left no doubt as to who is in control, joking at the time of his Bournemouth takeover that he was a “dictator”, in reference to his other shareholders. Before his investment in Bournemouth, he had reportedly looked at other options within the EPL but they were for minority stakes, which was less appealing.
Foley is also revered among the Golden Knights fanbase, after bringing almost instant success. They reached the Stanley Cup finals in their first season, before taking out the trophy in the 2022 season.
His interest underlines the compelling proposition that the Auckland market provides, with an ever-growing diverse population and an opportunity to start a team from scratch, rather than buy into an established franchise in Australia.
One of Foley’s New Zealand-based representatives had no comment on the potential A-League licence bid when contacted by the Herald.
Michael Burgess has been a sports journalist since 2005, winning several national awards and covering Olympics, Fifa World Cups and America’s Cup campaigns. A football aficionado, Burgess will never forget the noise that greeted Rory Fallon’s goal against Bahrain in Wellington in 2009.