The investment arm of NFL giants the San Francisco 49ers has bought a minority stake in Leeds United.
49ers Enterprises, a branch of the renowned American Football franchise, has acquired a shareholding of more than 10 per cent and appointed its president Paraag Marathe to United’s board after agreeing an equity deal with Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani.
The dramatic development at Elland Road comes two weeks after the YEP revealed that Radrizzani was in discussions to sell a shareholding in Leeds a year after buying full control of the Championship club from Massimo Cellino.
Leeds announced the partnership this morning having secured approval from the EFL for Marathe to join their board.
The club said the deal “strengthens the commercial, operational and sporting capabilities of the club and further supports Radrizzani’s commitment to bring success to Leeds United on the pitch.”
Discussions with Marathe, an existing friend of Radrizzani’s, and senior officials from the 49ers have been ongoing for a number of months and members of the San Francisco hierarchy attended three games at Elland Road during the recent Championship season.
Their investment, which is believed to be costing in the region of £10m for a stake slightly higher than 10 per cent, will be injected directly into the club and is set to be used to help fund United’s first-team transfers this summer. Marathe has already spoken to the club's players and head coach Paul Heckingbottom.
Radrizzani will retain overall control and remain as club chairman, with Marathe - the president of 49ers Enterprises and executive vice president of football operations - becoming the fifth member of the board of directors alongside Radrizzani, Angus Kinnear, Ivan Bravo and Andre Tegner.
Radrizzani said: “This strategic partnership enables Leeds United to align with and gain invaluable expertise from the owners of one of the biggest global sports entities.
“The 49ers are an innovative, successful organisation and we are delighted to have access to such a rich source of business and sporting expertise.
“This exciting partnership builds on the foundations we have laid down at the club in the last 12 months and we can assure supporters that the funds invested will go towards improving results on the pitch.”
The 49ers, five-times winners of the Super Bowl, are one of the most famous NFL franchises and were valued at more than £2bn by Forbes magazine last year. 49ers Enterprises is controlled by Jed York, the 49ers co-owner and chief executive officer.
The purchase of a minority stake in Leeds is not believed to be the start of a bid to acquire a larger stake in the club. Sources close to Radrizzani say the Italian has no intention of relinquishing control and the 49ers are believed to see the link-up with United as a sporting partnership and a chance to expand the reach their global brand.
The 49ers entry into English football follows on from Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan buying Fulham and Los Angeles Rams boss Stan Kroenke securing majority control of Arsenal.
Marathe said: “It is truly an honour to be invited to join the board of a football club as storied as Leeds United. I share the vision that Andrea has for returning Leeds United to greatness.
“I believe that the knowledge and experience we bring to the table combined with the hard work being done by Andrea and his talented team will make that vision a reality.”
Yesterday marked exactly 12 months since Radrizzani assumed 100 per cent control of Leeds, ending Cellino’s three-year spell in charge.
The 43-year-old initially bought a 50 per cent stake from Cellino but subsequently pushed through a deal to claim the rest of Cellino’s shares for a total fee of £45m.
Radrizzani went onto finance the repurchase of Leeds’ Elland Road stadium from its former landlord but the early promise of his first season in charge faded badly and United finished 13th in the Championship.
The club are looking to significantly improve their squad in this transfer window and should be aided by the injection of the 49ers’ cash. Hull City striker Abel Hernandez, Swansea City defender Kyle Bartley and Manchester City goalkeeper Angus Gunn are key targets.