Tony Fernandes announced as new owner of Queens Park Rangers • Malaysian businessman buys Bernie Ecclestone's 66% stake • Fernandes expected to invest £10m in club for new signings Tony Fernandes Tony Fernandes has become the new majority owner of QPR alongside the Mittal family, who retain their 33% stake. Thursday 18 August 2011 08.34 EDT
The Malaysian airline entrepreneur Tony Fernandes is the new majority owner of Queens Park Rangers having bought the whole of Bernie Ecclestone's 66% stake in the club for around £35m. The price is understood to equal the total which Ecclestone and his fellow investor Flavio Briatore have paid into QPR, in shares and loans, since they took over the club in 2007, and does not amount to a huge profit for the Formula One personalities.
"I've always wanted to be involved in football and the appeal of a London club like QPR was too good an opportunity to turn down," Fernandes said. "QPR is a raw diamond and hopefully I can contribute into turning it into a diamond. I want the fans to be proud of what we're doing and be involved as much as we can." ADVERTISING
Lakshmi Mittal, the Indian steel magnate, is understood to be retaining his 33% stake, although there had been discussions about increasing it by 10%. Mittal's son-in-law, Amit Bhatia, who won respect from Rangers fans as chairman last year before stepping down after season-ticket prices were increased and his own takeover offer was rebuffed, is expected to rejoin the board and work closely with Fernandes.
Fernandes is expected to pledge around £10m further to invest for new players the manager, Neil Warnock, wants to sign in this transfer window to give Rangers a more solid prospect of surviving in the Premier League. Scott Parker, the West Ham and England midfielder, is likely to be one of Warnock's targets.
The new owner does not, however, intend to bankroll the club with his own millions every year, but instead believes that on the Premier League's vast TV income, it can grow within its means if run sensibly and with a strong youth policy.
He will also not hide the intention to promote his own companies, the low-cost airline AirAsia, or Malaysian Airlines, in which he and his partner recently bought a 20% stake, with marketing initiatives, probably including sponsoring the Rangers shirt.
Team Lotus, the Formula One team of which Fernandes is the owner and team principal, is sponsored by AirAsia, which also sponsored last year's British Grand Prix, and he has concluded that sport is a very profitable marketing vehicle for his businesses.
Fernandes's 66% acquisition comes only two months after his second offer to buy West Ham, the club he supports, was rebuffed by the Hammers' co-owner, David Sullivan, who described it as "derisory". Fernandes then was approached to buy QPR by Ecclestone, who has never seemed fully engaged or happy owning the club. He and Briatore became bitterly unpopular with many fans after announcing steepling ticket price rises as soon as Rangers won promotion in May, and they looked for a sale and an exit route. Advertisement
Fans who have become sceptical about the businessmen arriving as saviours to buy their club are expected to be reassured that Fernandes is paying cash, not borrowing to take over, and he is understood to want the existing loans in the club, including from the Mittal family, to be converted into shares.
Born in Kuala Lumpur and educated in England, at the Epsom College boarding school then the London School of Economics, Fernandes qualified as an accountant and worked in the music industry for 14 years before doing the deal which has made his real fortune – buying the then debt-laden AirAsia, with three partners, for a token one Malaysian ringgit (20p) in 2001.
He said he mortgaged his home and had only £250,000 initially to invest in AirAsia, which was then reshaped into a low-cost airline flying 18m passengers to 65 cities in Asia and around the world, turning over £790m and making a pre-tax profit of £200m, according to its most recent annual report. The company Fernandes and his partners formed to buy the airline, Tune Air, still owns 26% of AirAsia, and sources close to him say he has sold shares in AirAsia to release the cash to buy into Rangers. Two of his partners in Malaysia are understood to be investing in the club alongside him.
Rangers began the season on Saturday with a 4-0 home defeat to Bolton, playing in a shirt without a sponsor, which club sources suggested then was because it was being left ready for AirAsia's name. QPR fans can expect a smiling, clubby style of ownership from a businessman who appears to relish all his activities, and believes in modern communication, including via his energetic Twitter account. There are suggestions that he wants to meet and talk to fans, then actually reduce the ticket prices to a more reasonable increase on what they were in the Championship last season.
If he makes good on his promises of investment without debt, and is open with and approachable to supporters, he should win friends among fans who grew miserable over the summer. It is, though, fiendishly difficult to give a small club a fighting chance in the Premier League without overspending, and once the deal is concluded, the hard work will begin.