Since its creation in 1992, the Premier League has grown into one of the richest sports leagues in the world. It is accessible to millions of homes across more than 200 territories thanks to its many lucrative television deals. It commands the highest revenue of any association football league. It means a great deal to a great many people, not just in England, but around the world.

The Premier League is also a corporation. The Football Association Premier League Ltd (FAPL), to give it it’s full name, is owned by its 20 member clubs, with a Chairman (currently Sir Dave Richards), Chief Executive (Richard Masters), and Board of Directors overseeing the day-to-day operation of the league. While the FA has a veto on certain issues (due to its special shareholder status), the Premier League essentially runs itself.

In blunt terms, it is a private club. It’s their ball, and if you want to play with it you have to play by their rules.

Most people are loosely aware of this, but don’t especially care; for the majority of fans, interest in the business side of the league extends to transfers and player contracts, and which broadcast partner is showing what games.

For Newcastle United fans however, the business side of the sport, and the nature of the Premier League, has clashed with their desire to see Mike Ashley depart over the past 12 months.

At this point in time, readers will be familiar with the Amanda Staveley-led consortium – comprising Staveley’s PCP Capital Partners, RB Sports & Media, and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (PIF) – and their proposed deal to buy Newcastle United from Ashley for a reported £300 million.

The PIF’s role in the takeover has been key throughout, with the sovereign wealth fund (SWF) set to secure an 80% share in the club if the sale went through. And that’s where things begin to get sticky.

An SWF is a state-owned investment fund, many countries have them (Norway’s Government Pension Fund being the largest), and they invest in all manner of things. Where, or when, an SWF takes a controlling stake in something, the term ‘state owned’ soon follows – understandably, the Premier League was hesitant to see one of its clubs become a ‘state owned’ entity, particularly a state with a certain amount of baggage attached to it.

While moral objections to the PIF’s involvement were made, and a wrangle over broadcast piracy in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region flared up, it was the PIF’s status as a sovereign wealth fund which continued to cause concern. The Premier League felt they were unable to see enough separation between the PIF and the Saudi Government (a lack of transparency is a common concern relating to SWFs), and despite attempts by the consortium to convince the league otherwise, the matter was never resolved. The consortium opted to withdraw from the process in July 2020.

Magpies fans cried foul, accusations that the Premier League was trying to suppress one of the ‘little guys’ in order to preserve the Big Six were rife. Comparisons to Manchester City’s ownership were inevitably drawn, questions asked why it was ok for one team, but not for Newcastle United.

The recent sale of Burnley FC, to ALK Capital, has only frustrated Newcastle fans further, with ALK appearing to sink Burnley into debt due to the way financing of the takeover has been structured.

Justifiably, Newcastle fans have asked why that was ok, but a consortium with the financial power of the one Staveley’s brought together could not purchase Newcastle United.

Unfortunately, this is where we start to talk in ‘shades of grey’, and about the ‘dark arts of the business world’.

ALK Capital is a private company, and while some might consider it immoral or unethical for the new owners to have used the club’s cash reserves to pay the selling shareholders, it’s not something that would cause the sale to be blocked by the Premier League. Nor would using the club, and its Turf Moor stadium, as collateral to help secure a £60m loan, from MSD UK Holdings, to help fund the takeover; think of it like a mortgage on the club perhaps.

From the outside, it may look unseemly, but what ALK Capital have done with Burnley is not hugely dissimilar to what the Glazer Family did to buy Manchester United, and – rightly or wrongly – there was no reason for the Premier League to block the deal.

As for those comparisons to Manchester City, who were bought by the Abu Dhabi United Group Investment and Development Limited (ADUG) in 2008, again the devil is in the detail; ADUG is seen as a private equity company. The difference is subtle perhaps, but important.

While an SWF does exist in Abu Dhabi (the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority), ADUG has always denied any connection to the government of Abu Dhabi, and by extension its Investment Authority, and has positioned itself as an entirely separate company from the get-go.

If you think there’s at least a faint smell of bullshit about all that, given Sheikh Mansour’s (member of the Abu Dhabi Royal Family and Minister of Presidential Affairs for the UAE)  involvement in ADUG, well then you wouldn’t be the first – but the fact remains, ADUG has done enough to convince the business world, and the Premier League, that it is a separate, private equity company; something the PIF could not do.

Even where other Saudi nationals are involved in a Premier League club, there is clarity – Sheffield United is owned by Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (Prince Abdullah), but he effectively owns the team as an individual, and has done since 2018 (so prior to their promotion in 2019).

None of this will bring little solace to Newcastle fans of course, and doubtless some will still continue to claim some ulterior motive exists, but these subtleties really do matter when talking about the multi-million pound acquisitions of clubs participating in a multi-billion pound league.

ROB McGREGOR – @SamuraiPizzaRob