Phoenix Suns managing partner Robert Sarver, Vice Chairman Andy Kohlberg and former Suns great Steve Nash are general partners in a bid to purchase a majority stake in Levante, a Spanish football club. That bid was recently rejected by the shareholders and voting parties, but per Sarver is hopeful the bid could still be revisited in the future.
Levante had gone bankrupt and were taken over by the government, who put the team up for sale to recoup an investment representing 72% of the team's ownership stake. The government appointed a 31-member voting panel and a 5-member negotiating committee to broker a deal to repay the government and bring the team out of debt.
Seeing a great opportunity arise, Sarver, Kohlberg and Nash went to Valencia, Spain to hammer out a deal. They spent nearly a week negotiating the purchase, and after five days Sarver was still quite positive that the purchase would go through.
Sarver met with Levante club president Quico Catalan, Fundación president José Manuel Fuertes, legal counsel Javier Martínez and Luis Calero, and lawyer Enrique Grima at the Westin in Valencia as the two sides worked out a deal that would see Sarver purchase 72% of the club's shares and eliminate €30 million of the club's outstanding debts.
After the meeting, Sarver, who is joined by his former player and football enthusiast Steve Nash and New York businessman Andy Kohlberg, calmed the fears of the Levante fans and stressed that the cash-strapped club will be in good hands following the sale.
"We've been here for the last five days and have met several times with the club and Fundacion. We've had a lot of talks and things are moving along well, they are doing a great job. It'll be next week before we can say anything."
A week later, the deal was dead. At least for now.
In the days after the negotiating committee agreed to the deal and before the final vote of the 31-member panel, one of the five negotiators, club president Quico Catalan, changed his mind and lobbied enough against the sale to ensure they could not get the 2/3 vote required to approve the sale.
Per Sarver via phone with Bright Side this week, government officials were wary of foreign investors due to bad experiences with foreign parties by other football clubs in England, Scotland, Italy and neigboring countries. Sarver's team just had too steep a hill to climb to convince enough voters to approve the sale.
"I respect the right [of the] club president to change his mind, like other employers. After all it is their opinion and our desire was to work with him, not against him," he reportedly told the media in Valencia.
According to one report out of Valencia, Sarver's presentation to club leadership included a brash suggestion to heavily invest in a much larger stadium and move the club into the city of Valencia. Club leadership bristled at the suggestion, which contributed to the rejection.
Sarver: "Why not take advantage of the half-built stadium there on Avenida de las Cortes? "
The answer was unequivocal: "Valencia is very expensive and too big for us."
Sarver's suggestion, reportedly, was to invest in the half-finished stadium with room for up to 80,000 fans, an arena plan that had been abandoned by the city of Valencia years before due to cost overruns and lack of funding. Levante's fan base is much smaller than 80,000 and parking around the stadium is scarce. Club leadership soured on the deal partially for that reason, eventually turning enough votes to the negative to kill it.
Sarver's failed bid to buy into the much more storied Rangers franchise last January reportedly was for 18-20 million pounds (more than $27 million US dollars). Sarver says he wanted to invest in a majority equity stake in the financially struggling club, but the Scottish ownership group wanted only a debt investment from him. Some of their existing minority shareholders, including one named Dave King, invested money instead. King now has a majority stake and has recently been named Chairman.
Sarver, Nash and Kohlberg were reportedly willing to invest at least 30 million pounds in Levante FC, in addition to other incentives for a majority 72% ownership.
Since the down vote, Levante's Foundation president and secretary, who'd both lobbied for the sale, have reportedly resigned their positions, per Sarver. Sarver is not ready to give up. He said many of the minority shareholders and the team's fans were not happy with the 'no' vote.
Sarver's partnership with former Suns great Steve Nash on the bid indicates a strong relationship between the two, years after Sarver's front office moved on from Nash in 2012 and traded him to rival Los Angeles Lakers. It's been reported that Sarver himself negotiated the deal to send Nash to the Lakers for several draft picks, and that Nash appreciated the move because it kept him within a few hundred miles of his young children. That same week, Sarver negotiated the free agent deal to bring back Goran Dragic to replace Nash as the starting point guard, saving Suns fans from watching Raymond Felton steer the ship for a few years.