Sport Republic acquires stake in Southampton FC

English Premier League club Southampton has confirmed that Sport Republic – backed by billionaire Serbian businessman Dragan Solak – have acquired a large stake in the club.

They have purchased the stakes that were previously owned by Chinese businessman Gao Jisheng, and will work in collaboration with Katharina Liebherr – daughter of Swiss businessman Markus Liebherr – who owns the remaining stake in the club.

Sport Republic are a London-based investment firm for the sports and entertainment industry. They were founded by Henrik Kraft and Rasmus Ankersen and headed by Dragan Solak. Their portfolio includes Tonsser – a football player app that empowers youth players to progress and unlock their potential.

Southampton CEO Martin Semmens:

“Over the last two years, together with the shareholders of our club, we have searched for the right partner to take the club forward. Today we have found the perfect solution,” he said.

“Sport Republic are experienced investors, but also experienced within the world of elite professional sports. That combination is very hard to find, and we are thrilled to have reached an agreement that secures our short and long-term future.

“We are grateful for the support of Mr Gao and Katharina that allowed us to take our time, turn away the wrong options and ultimately find the right partner for the future of this great club, its fans, staff and the people of Southampton.

Sport Republic Lead Investor Dragan Solak:

“My partners and I have experience in long-term investments in the sports and entertainment industry and Sport Republic has been founded to combine this expertise and deliver something unique to the market,” he said.

“Southampton has so many of the qualities we have been looking for in a major sports organisation. It has a great management team, excellent talent development, talented teams playing attractive football and a dedicated fan base. We are delighted to be able to complete this acquisition.”

Sport Republic Chairman Henrik Kraft:

“We will be an active and engaged owner, but we will not be starting any revolutions. We were attracted to Southampton because it is already a well-run club that follows a clearly defined strategy,” he said.

“Whilst Southampton is Sport Republic’s first acquisition, we expect more investments to follow over the coming years. Our ambition is to build a portfolio of high-influence stakes in football clubs and other sporting assets across the world.

“At the same time, we will also invest in early-stage sports technology companies and use our portfolio to accelerate the development of these companies. The acquisition of Southampton is a great first step and we are very excited about the journey ahead.”

Melbourne Knights to kick-start NordVPN’s ventures in the Australian football market

Melbourne Knights FC have announced their latest partnership with one of the world’s leading VPN providers, NordVPN.

Established in 2012, NordVPN is a Lithuanian VPN service that aims to provide secure and private access to the internet. It works by enveloping all of your online activities in a layer of encryption and hiding information about your virtual location.

This enables users to stay invisible to hackers, your internet service provider (ISP), governmental agencies and others from looking while you’re browsing the net. NordVPN also protects data such as bank details from potential attacks.

NordVPN has partnered with many clubs in Europe – such as Rangers, Atlético Madrid and Barnsley – and now they are venturing out to clubs around Australia.

Speaking with Soccerscene, Head of Commercial Operations at Melbourne Knights FC, Ange Hrastov, and NordVPN Country Manager for Australia and New Zealand, Ian Wheller, discuss the early discussions between them, the main outcomes from this partnership and potential collaborations between the pair in the future.

What were the early discussions like between NordVPN and the Melbourne Knights?

Ange Hrastov: NordVPN reached out to us and sent the Club an email, just asking whether we were interested in partnership opportunities with NordVPN.

It was right in the middle of all our other sponsors and at the time we were doing our season launch. We got back to NordVPN and said we’re always open to partnership opportunities as we’ve done with others.

We also asked them for a little bit of clarity on what they wanted and what the opportunity represented.

So that’s when I got a hold of Ian and both of us had a chat and he explained a couple of ways you can go; you can get a percentage of each subscription that they get, or we can get a flat fee. So, we chose the flat fee with them and that’s how it was.

As a Club, we’re just looking for opportunities to expand our network and our business partner base. We also saw it as an opportunity to be able to offer to our members, particularly our younger ones, who are more tech savvy and something that could benefit them in conjunction with being associated with the Club.

Ian Wheller: NordVPN reached out directly to Melbourne Knights. Australia is a relatively mature market for NordVPN, but local sports clubs are an area where we’ve seen great success in European markets that we want to try and replicate here.

We’ve had success with top-tier clubs such as Rangers FC and Barnsley FC, all the way down to the lower leagues, showcasing growth opportunities.

What were the main outcomes for both parties in this partnership?

Ange Hrastov: From our perspective at Melbourne Knights, our sponsor base and our business partner base have been pretty much the same businesses, and that’s been the case for many years now.

I came into it saying that we actually do need to start to expand our business partner network. We were looking for business partners that could also contribute in terms of their business experience, knowledge and acumen towards the future success of our club as much as any financial benefit we obtain from such partnerships.

It’s not just about the dollars, we wanted to see how the two businesses could coexist and work together. One of the things that they did before we made any decisions to partner with NordVPN is they pointed us in the direction of what they’ve been doing in the UK with football clubs.

It was Ipswich Town that they have a partnership with over in the UK in the Championship, and I looked at the website and it appeared a good fit. They seem to have a healthy partnership and relationship with Ipswich Town, and we thought why not give it a crack?

This is an opportunity that takes us into areas that we haven’t worked with before and to partner with someone where we give back to our members, it is a partnership where our members can tangibly gain from it.

Ian Wheller: Due to our successful partnerships in Europe with football teams, we’ve decided to follow a similar trend in Australia due to the closely aligned love for the game. Bringing it back to Melbourne Knights specifically, we purposely targeted the lower leagues to begin with to understand growth appetite and partnering with the Melbourne Knights is a great way for us to support the local community.

We are looking to grow brand awareness and subsequent customer subscriptions off the back of the Melbourne Knights sponsorship and the plan is to roll this out nationally to clubs that we see are a good fit.

Are there any future collaborations being discussed after the agreement of this partnership such as jersey and pitch sponsorships?

Ange Hrastov: At the moment, there have been very limited discussions and we’re at very early stages. We will need to see how it goes for both them and us in terms of what kind of return they get for what they’re doing.

Let’s show them what the outcome can be and how successful it can be and from that point, then we can start talking about further opportunities that we can look at with NordVPN.

Let’s walk first, then once we’ve established a relationship, we’ll start running later.

Ian Wheller: We are starting light when it comes to sponsorships across Australia. Both pitch and jersey sponsorship are positive for the future, our current approach will allow us to test different strategies.

Due to this partnership between the Melbourne Knights and NordVPN, fans have been given an exclusive offer when they sign up with NordVPN. The offer is a 72% discount off monthly plans and a Saily eSim for those who are planning to go overseas.

For more information, visit the article about the partnership on the Melbourne Knights website.

Newcastle Jets’ new owners add key pieces for upcoming season

Newcastle Jets’ new owners, Maverick Sports Partners, have hired Ken Schembri as General Manager of Football and Ben Hawes as General Manager of Commercial, Digital and Marketing for this upcoming season.

The appointment of Schembri and Hawes reaffirms Maverick Sports Partners’ intent to invest in high-quality resources, which should excite Newcastle fans for this upcoming season.

Schembri had previously worked with the reigning champions, the Central Coast Mariners, being an essential part of establishing the Central Coast Mariners Football Academy and their Centre of Excellence when he joined in 2014.

Schembri will manage the A-League Men’s roster, oversee player performance and development, and handle recruitment for all football departments.

The Mariner’s Academy has produced many young and exciting Australian talent including Garang Kuol and Max Balard who have all gone to join clubs in Europe after their time in Gosford. Schembri has most recently played a key role in Central Coast’s recent success as Head of Football.

Maverick Sports Partners Director Maurice Bisetto commented about the new additions.

“We are excited to have both Ken and Ben join the Newcastle Jets team. They will be integral to the strategy and direction of the Club’s New Era, providing expertise and support, on and off the pitch,” said Bisetto in a club statement.

These two joined the Jets after the club were bought by the Australian company only last month.

Hawes has prior experience in Sponsorship, Marketing and Content roles at the National Rugby League, Sportsbet, BlueBet and Sydney FC.

Hawes will focus on expanding and diversifying the clubs commercial revenue streams which includes growing the sponsorship portfolio. He will also deal with commercialising the club’s digital channels as well as implementing new marketing and fan engagement strategies.

Due to these recent moves, Newcastle have the potential to produce exciting Australian talent and grow its brand across the league which will help the club continue to improve both on and off the pitch and ultimately strengthen their stability for future seasons.

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