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Tycoon pledges to get Rangers back into elite

Rangers reject “possible” offer from US basketball boss

IbroxRangers board has rejected a “possible” £18 million takeover offer from American financier Robert Sarver, but it appears to be prepared to welcome the multi-millionaire’s involvement in the club.

In a statement this morning the club said his offer did not “adequately value” Rangers.

But the board also revealed that discussions are under way with other shareholders “with a view to arranging finance”.  Dave King and/or the Three Bears consortium could be invited, along with Mr Sarver, to plough funds into the cash-strapped club.

Today’s statement from Ibrox said: “While the directors welcome Mr Sarver’s approach, they believe that, notwithstanding the current financial difficulties, the proposal does not adequately value a controlling interest  in the company.”

Mr Sarver, the 52-year-old banker and owner of the Arizona-based Phoenix Suns basketball team, has proposed a placing of 100 million shares at 18p per share.

On the back of the takeover speculation, shares in Rangers International, the parent company, rose 15.56% on the Alternative Investment Market yesterday to close at 26p.

The rejection of the offer is typical of the pattern of takeover bids. The first offer is rarely accepted and as this one is clearly well below the current trading price most analysts would say that it does not fully value the club.

There is, however,  an indication that the board is willing to talk to other shareholders to bring a resolution to the ownership struggle. It appears Rangers board may want to discuss at least an injection of funds into the club from Mr Sarver and others to solve immediate financing issues.

The Takeover Panel yesterday gave Mr Sarver a month to decide whether to launch a bid for control of the club.

Sarver, who has a personal fortune of $400 million (£262m), made his interest in the Ibrox club known just after Christmas. The Takeover Panel has given him until 5pm on 2 February to declare his intentions.

Mr Sarver revealed today that it was a conversation with former Rangers player, Davie Robertson, now a youth football director in Phoenix, Arizona, which first sparked his interest in the club.

Speaking from Arizona, Mr Sarver said: “My three sons all play soccer, as we call it here in the US, for Davie’s club.

“Initially, I’d had some of my advisors examining potential investments in teams in the English Premier League and in Spain, but Davie encouraged me to take a close look at Rangers.

“Like all Rangers fans, he’s really upset about how far the club has fallen in recent years and the more we spoke, the more interested I became.

“I’d be the first to admit that I’m not a lifelong Rangers supporter, but anyone who knows me is aware that I’m a genuine sports fanatic and owning two major basketball franchises for the past decade has been an enormous privilege.

“I’ve spent the vast majority of my career in public companies and I’m used to working in very highly regulated environments. I understand the crucial importance of business integrity and transparency.

“Rangers fans have every right to be wary about someone showing an interest in the club they love, especially given some of the events of recent years.

“First and foremost I believe what the club needs today is a very quick, major injection of capital to stabilise things and I can give the Rangers supporters a categorical assurance that I have the resources and ability to get this club back to its elite level.

“I’m looking forward to building a consensus amongst supporters and prominent Rangers-minded figures who have the long-term success of the club at heart.

“I’ve had detailed research carried out on Rangers and I’m convinced that we could take it back to the top of the Scottish game on a stable and sustainable basis.”

Mr Sarver is a highly-respected CEO of New York Stock Exchange-listed Western Alliance Bancorporation, a $10 billion dollar bank holding company, and also sits on the board of directors of two other major publicly-listed US companies, Meritage Homes and Skywest Airlines.

He has already provided proof of funds to the Rangers board.

A high-profile figure in US sports, he purchased a majority ownership in the Phoenix Suns basketball franchise in 2004. During Mr Sarver’s tenure the team boasts the fourth-best winning record in the NBA. Women’s basketball is also big in the US and, under Mr Sarver’s ownership, Phoenix Mercury has won three WNBA titles.

Davie Robertson, said: “I’ve known Robert for several years. He has been very supportive of our local club and has a very good reputation in the US.

“When he said he was looking to invest in football in Europe, I told him right away that Rangers could really be doing with someone with his track record. I explained how far the club has fallen, but that there was huge potential to rebuild it.”

Robertson, who played 245 times for Rangers over six seasons and was part of the side which won nine-in-a-row, continued: “Even though I’m now based over here, I always watch really closely how things are going at Ibrox and it’s tragic to see how a club which was once a force in Europe has been brought so low.

“I can tell every Rangers fan in Scotland and abroad, if Robert Sarver is successful in becoming part of the club, he’ll not rest until they are back on top again.”

 The scene is now set for a battle with South Africa based Dave King who late last week bought a 14.57% stake in the club, and the Three Bears consortium made up of Douglas Park, George Taylor and George Letham who own almost 20% after buying out Isle of Man hedge fund Laxey Partners.  King topped up his holding by acquiring shares from Artemis and Miton.

Sarver is also said to be in talks with the Three Bears to mount a joint bid for Rangers and topple the existing board. They may be able to garner the support of other minority shareholders who own 15% of the club. He is said to be willing to spend a further £15m buying out the other shareholders.

In a separate development Scots tycoon Jim McColl today handed over his 10,000-share stake in Rangers to fans group Rangers First.  The group has already bought up 600,000 shares – around 0.75% of the club’s total equity – which has been mostly paid for by donations and monthly subscriptions from its 2,000-plus contributors.

Robert Sarver, however, remains the key focus of interest. In 2013 heearned total pay and benefits of $3.4 million (£2.2m) from the bank, $305,000 from a non-executive role at Meritage Homes and $96,750 from a similar position at SkyWest.

But his wealth extends well beyond his annual earnings. The man from Tucson Arizona has a long career in banking and founded the National Bank of Arizona as a 23-year-old, soon after graduating with a degree in business administration.

He sold it 12 years later after it had grown to become the largest independent bank in Arizona. A year later, he bought Grossmont Bank, the largest bank in the San Diego, California.

A big basketball fan, he acquired the Phoenix Suns in 2004. However, his tenure as a team owner has met harsh criticism for his “penny-pinching” towards team matters.

He sits on the board of trustees of the Sarver Heart Center (Tucson), which he helped build in memory of his late father, who was among the first in an experimental group to undergo bypass surgery.

Aside from the takeover tussle, the football club chairman Sandy Easdale has made a £500,000 interest-free loan from the proceeds of selling Lewis Macleod to Brentford. The money will be used to fund working capital over the coming months.

The club also announced yesterday that Barry Leach, a consultant and ally of 8.92% shareholder Mike Ashley, will be appointed finance director of the PLC board.

 

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