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Saracens owner Wray in talks to cut stake after salary cap scandal | Business News

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Allianz Park is the home of Saracens Rugby Club

The long-standing owner of Saracens is in talks to reduce his controlling stake in the rugby union club as it seeks to rebuild in the wake of the salary cap scandal which triggered its relegation last year.

Sky News has learnt that Nigel Wray, the property tycoon who took full ownership of Saracens in 2018 but has had a 25-year association with the former domestic and European club champions, is in talks to dilute his shareholding.

Mr Wray is understood to be in discussions with a number of executives at MSD Capital, the private investment firm set up by computing tycoon Michael Dell.

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Allianz, the German insurer, has terminated its long-running association with the club

These are thought to include John Phelan, MSD’s co-founder and chief investment officer.

It is not thought that MSD itself is talking to Mr Wray about buying a stake in Saracens.

People close to the club cautioned on Thursday that there remained a strong chance that a deal would not go ahead, but that even if it did, Mr Wray and his family would remain significant long-term investors in it.

“The family is not looking to sell out – this is about a partnership which involves funding for the stadium’s expansion, future coaching and player investment,” said one Saracens insider.

Any deal would involve up to £40m of new investment in the club.

The talks with the MSD executives represent only one of a number of investment routes being considered, they added.

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Saracens were relegated at end of season

The current owner is also thought to be exploring an alternative plan which could involve selling a stake in Saracens to a syndicate of high net-worth supporters.

Mr Wray’s daughter, Lucy, continues to run the club.

Saracens declined to comment.

Mr Wray first invested in the club in 1995, and his money helped to transform it into a European rugby powerhouse, boasting players such as the England captain Owen Farrell and international team-mate Maro Itoje.

The property tycoon regained full ownership in April 2018 after buying back a 50% stake which had been sold to Remgro, a South African company.

Mr Wray’s ownership became mired in scandal in 2019, however, when it emerged the club had repeatedly breached Premiership Rugby’s salary cap rules, infuriating disadvantaged rivals.

The side was relegated to the Championship after being fined £5m and deducted 35 Premiership points.

Its finances have been further depleted by the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on elite sport, with Saracens’ league season not due to get under way until March.

Saracens' Owen Farrell warming up before the Gallagher Premiership match at Allianz Park, London. 22/8/20
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Saracens signed players such as Owen Farrell

In a sign of returning corporate confidence in Saracens’ efforts to rebuild its reputation, it confirmed last weekend that it had signed up the American owner of City Index to a record-breaking sponsorship deal.

Allianz, the German insurer, terminated its long-running association with the club after the emergence of the salary cap scandal.

Saracens has remained a shareholder in Premiership Rugby Limited despite its relegation.

Prior to the crisis, it had been one of the most successful sides in European club rugby, having won the European Champions Cup three times in the past five years and the Premiership five times in the last decade.

Like other elite leagues and sport governing bodies, Premiership Rugby, which is backed by the private equity firm CVC Capital Partners, has seen its financial assumptions hit by the pandemic.

There remains chronic uncertainty about the timing and status of myriad international sporting events this year, despite the widening distribution of several coronavirus vaccines around the world.

That uncertainty is driving an investment frenzy into elite sport, including in rugby.

Earlier this week, Sky News revealed that Silver Lake, the US-based buyout firm, was in advanced talks to take a stake in the New Zealand All Blacks’ commercial rights arm.

A £365m deal for CVC Capital Partners to buy a stake in the Six Nations Championship is also close to being finalised.

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Boohoo Group set to acquire collapsed Debenhams department store chain | Business News

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Boohoo Group set to acquire collapsed Debenhams department store chain | Business News

Online fashion retailer Boohoo Group is set to acquire troubled department store chain Debenhams.

The cut-price deal will result in the closure of Debenhams’ remaining stores, according to a report in the Financial Times which has been confirmed by Sky News.

The purchase price is expected to be about £50m, the newspaper said.

Both companies declined to comment.

It comes just days after Debenhams administrators FRP Advisory said they were still in talks with “a number of third parties regarding the sale of all or parts of the business”.

At the time, they announced that six stores would not reopen, including the flagship Oxford Street shop in central London.

The 242-year-old department store started a liquidation process last month after failing to secure a last-minute rescue sale.

Debenhams has been in administration since April last year but its problems pre-date the coronavirus crisis that has hurt so many high street retailers.

For much of its history, Debenhams was highly profitable and was an established anchor tenant on many UK high streets and shopping centres.

In the 1950s, Debenhams had 110 stores, making it the country’s largest department store group.

It listed on the London stock market for the third time in 2006, following a spell in private equity ownership that proved lucrative for CVC Capital Partners and TPG but which left its balance sheet saddled with what proved to be unsustainable debts.

And while customers increasingly moved their shopping online, Debenhams was opening new stores as recently as 2017 and its large physical presence came with high costs – rising rents, business rates and maintenance.

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Hollywood Bowl faces being skittled by investors in pay row | Business News

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Hollywood Bowl faces being skittled by investors in pay row | Business News

The boardroom pay chief at Hollywood Bowl is facing a shareholder backlash this week after the company decided to ignore the coronavirus crisis in its decision about incentive payouts to top executives.

Sky News has learnt that Hollywood Bowl has been trying to appease top investors in recent days in order to prevent an embarrassing revolt at its annual general meeting on Friday.

Institutions have been angered by the tenpin bowling operator’s move to assess executives’ performance under a long-term incentive scheme until February, rather than September, 2020.

Like other leisure groups, Hollywood Bowl was forced to close its 64 UK sites – which also trade under the AMF and Puttstars mini-golf brands – for much of last year because of the pandemic.

The company’s decision to move the goalposts in relation to its LTIP has, however, infuriated investors which supported the company by injecting nearly £11m in a share placing last year.

Hollywood Bowl also received taxpayer funding through the furlough scheme, while shareholders were hit by the suspension of its dividend.

The change to the share scheme performance period meant that targets were met in full, paying out 81% of the maximum on a pro rata basis.

If the plan was assessed across the originally planned period concluding in September, it would not have paid out at all.

Hollywood Bowl’s decision to “exercise discretion” by shortening the performance period risks inflaming tensions around boardroom pay, with companies such as the publisher Future and cinema operator Cineworld also in the line of fire.

The tenpin bowling group’s shares have slumped by nearly a third over the last year, leaving it with a market capitalisation of just over £320m.

Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), an influential proxy adviser, has recommended that shareholders vote against both Hollywood Bowl’s remuneration report and the re-election of non-executive director Claire Tiney, who chairs the pay committee.

“While shareholders will note that awards will be subject to a two year holding period and continuous employment, they may question whether such payments are appropriate, given the company’s circumstances, the government help received, furloughing 98.6% of staff (it will be noted that unlike the case in other companies, the directors did not reduce their salaries to reflect reductions for the furloughed staff, but deferred a portion of their salaries until October 2020) and suspending dividends,” ISS said.

“It may therefore be questioned how the payment of awards to directors is commensurate with experience of other stakeholders.”

In a statement, a Hollywood Bowl spokeswoman said its board had “received external advice to ensure that its remuneration policy strikes the right balance between the interests of shareholders and the ability to incentivise and retain senior management, which is undoubtedly in the best interests of all of our stakeholders”.

“The board’s new holding conditions on the LTIPs vesting further align management to shareholder interests while recognising that management comfortably exceeded the challenging EPS targets set in 2017 prior to the pandemic, and the significant shareholder value created by since IPO.

“No new LTIP targets are being set until the board has greater visibility on outlook.”

A source close to the company said its management had delivered a £1.4m profit for the financial year despite the nationwide lockdowns and COVID-19 operating restrictions.

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Asos emerges as surprise frontrunner to clinch TopShop crown | Business News

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Asos emerges as surprise frontrunner to clinch TopShop crown | Business News

Asos, the online fashion retailer, has emerged as the surprise frontrunner to buy TopShop from the administrators to Sir Philip Green’s former high street empire.

Sky News has learnt that Asos has moved into pole position to buy the brand for more than £250m, days after a consortium led by Next withdrew from the race.

If successful, it may renew fears for the future of most of TopShop’s workforce, given Asos’s status as a pure-play digital retailer.

Asos is not holding any talks about buying TopShop stores, according to insiders, although it is also keen to acquire Arcadia’s Miss Selfridge brand alongside TopShop and TopMan.

A source close to Asos cautioned on Saturday night that a deal had not been struck and that there was no certainty that an agreement would be reached to acquire one of Britain’s best-known clothing brands.

Asos is competing against rivals including Boohoo; the American retailer Authentic Brands Group, which is working in tandem with JD Sports Fashion; and Shein, a Chinese fashion group.

Asda, which is itself in the process of being taken over by the petrol stations giant EG Group and private equity firm TDR Capital, is also said to have been among the bidders during the process.

A deal could be struck by the end of the month, although a person close to another bidder warned that the situation remained “fluid” and could yet result in another outcome than an acquisition by Asos.

Other parties remain in talks with Deloitte, although none are said to have the logic that Asos possesses because of its existing wholesale relationship with TopShop and the strategic importance of its growing presence in the US market.

Earlier this week, Next and its partner, Davidson Kempner Capital Management, a US investment firm, pulled out of the sale process, citing the elevated price expectations of Arcadia Group’s administrator, Deloitte.

A separate process is being run by Deloitte, which was appointed as administrator to Arcadia in November, for the group’s other brands.

Up to 13,000 jobs are at risk from Arcadia’s collapse, with brands including Evans, Wallis and Outfit seen as less likely to attract bidders.

The demise of Sir Philip’s empire follows the failure of retailers such as Cath Kidston, Oasis and Warehouse and Debenhams as the coronavirus crisis has exacerbated the financial pain being experienced across the British high street.

It is Arcadia’s appointment of administrators that is likely to emerge as the most enduring symbol of the pandemic’s impact on the economy.

Sir Philip bought the high street group in 2002 for £850m, and just three years later paid what remains one of the largest-ever dividends – £1.2bn – to Arcadia’s registered owner, Lady Christina.

For years, he was feted as a high street colossus, advising David Cameron on public sector waste during his period as prime minister.

In 2012, he sold a 25% stake in TopShop’s immediate holding company to Leonard Green & Partners, a private equity firm, valuing the fashion chain at £2bn.

Sir Philip was later to buy it back for just $1.

Asos and Deloitte declined to comment on Saturday night.

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