An industry insider provides a sobering explanation for why our dream takeover was actually a 14-week nightmare and impossible for Richard Masters to green light

The source is a confirmed Newcastle fan who anonymously contacted True Faith and requested their name not appear in the article

Only Newcastle fans can truly appreciate what 13 years of Mike Ashley feels like.

It’s enough to make you overlook the crimes of Saudi Arabia and Mohammed bin Salman. The prospect of new owners had96.7% of Newcastle fans very excited. Myself included. We chose to focus on who was departing rather than who was coming in. “We deserve this”, I thought.I don’t feel like I’ve had a football club to support for the past 13 years so, you know what, I’ll look past the Saudi’s misgivings. Ashley is leaving. Rejoice.

That might sound crazy to people who don’t support Newcastle, I get that. It’s more a damning reflection of how desperate we are for Newcastle United to become a functioning football club again.I.e. Trying to win all competitive games, playing a positive role in the community, making an effort to sell match tickets, not accepting mere survival in the Premier League as success.Dreaming of more. When you’re the 19thwealthiest clubin Europethat’s not asking for much.

Throughout the Fit and Proper Persons testing window I remained confident this was a takeover that was actually going to happen. Positive news stories gathered, #cans chilled, but they remained on ice.Time ticked, and the sheer complexity of the whole thing became apparent.

Saudi Arabia havebeen stealing Premier League broadcast content from Qatar’s BeIN Sports’broadcast feed for three years.Now, Saudi Arabia are asking the Premier League to let them buy an 80% share in one of its clubs. That’s a difficult conversation for the Premier League’s recently appointed CEO, Richard Masters, to have with BeIN Sports. “Err, we’re letting the state who steal your content buy one of the 20 clubs you pay a share of£500m to a season.

But noises suggested the Premier Leaguewere going to somehow make this work. How?By getting Saudi Arabia to stop their piracy operation. By opposing a Saudi-led takeover, BeIN Sports’ would have effectively forced Richard Masters to order the closure of Saudi’s pirate operation, BeoutQonce and for all.Everyone’s a winner, right?

A grilling of Richard Masters atagovernment committee meeting at the end of June revealed just how complicated our takeover situation was. MP’s, including SNP member John Nicolson, hijacked a meeting that was supposed to be about the impact of COVID and how Project Restart was going to work. He pulled Masters apart on the issue of the takeover. An interview with the BBC’s Dan Roan also took a similar direction. There was little Masters could say due to the legalities of the process,buton piracy hewas consistent: “We take piracy very seriously.I think our views on what’s happened in Saudi Arabia around BeoutQ are on public record and obviously we were extremely frustrated with that process,” he said. “What we want – off the back of the WTO report and our own efforts and those of other sports – is for Saudi Arabia to respond positively to the situation and allow sports rights holders to protect their rights.”

It was a clear message from Masters to, not onlythe20 Premier League clubs and the parties who fund them (Sky, BT Sport and BeIN Sport who will pay a total of £9.2bnto clubs between 2019 and 2022),but toSaudi Arabia.There are rules that can’t be broken, if they’re breached the whole structure of the game falls apart. Piracy is a no-go for the good of sport globally.Without regulated broadcast rights the money dries up and clubs go out of business.

Fans might not like the overreliance on broadcast revenue, but that’s thereality. It has been since 1992 when the Premier League was formed by clubs who saw an opportunity to make more money by aligning with a paid TV model. It’s football in the modern age. An entertainment product for TV audiences.

You can argue that Qatar, the state that own BeIN Sports,don’t play by the rules themselves. People are in jail accused of World Cup bribes and human rights abuses, the Qatari-owned Paris Saint Germain have faced Financial Fair Play penalties. Qatar is far from perfect in their approach to the beautiful game.

However, there’s one big difference here. Qatar’s practices to date don’t impact directly upon the revenue of Premier League clubs the way piracy does. Qatar doesn’t erode the value of the Premier League product and they don’tprevent money going into the pockets of clubs like Newcastle. Qatar arguably create an unfair playing field when clubs like PSG are accused of breaking FFP but the impact isn’t as direct as that of piracy. PSG’s financial doping, Qatar’s World Cup bribes and human rights abuses are out of the jurisdiction of Richard Masters and the Premier League anyway. BeIN Sports are the biggest overseas investor right now for Premier League clubs and, in the context of the league, they play fairly.

Why is BeIN Sports’ funding so important that it can essentially block the deal and absolve Richard Masters of blame? First, look at his remit and role at the Premier League. Their website states:‘The Premier League is the organising body of the Premier League with responsibility for the competition, its Rule Book and the centralised broadcast and other commercial rights.’ The Premier League is technically a not-for-profit organisation, its job is to put the competition on, apply the rules of the game and generate commercial revenue that goes straight back to the 20 clubs. As an organisation it simply sets out to cover its operational costs.

People might assume the riches that come into the Premier League are used to fund a lavish operation. The reality is quite the opposite. It is a relatively small operation. A workforce of around 180 people work across a range of roles.In the days after PCP pulled out of the takeover bid, Newcastle fan Tyler McGill  travelled to Premier League HQ in a bid to speak to Richard Masters in person, posting videos of his efforts on Twitter. He stated his intention was to remain there until he got some answers. On his first day looking for Masters he made it into the Premier League’s reception area and car park. By day three of his quest he commented that the Premier League had a “rubbish reception, rubbish security” and “all sorts of low-quality stuff”. Hardly the ivory tower many of us pictured.

The Premier League has 20 shares, one given to each club. Big decisionson things like the implementation of VAR and rules on the pitch go to a vote.I.e.if 14 of the 20 clubs agree on something, the decision is taken.Unfortunately, in many ways, the clubs (including Newcastle) run the Premier League, not the other way around. This structure was agreed in 1992 when the top clubs broke away and has been this way ever since.

Understandably, this is where fans get frustrated. The Premier League was built on an agreement that revenues would be shared equally among those in the top league, ensuring it remained competitive. Even when bigger English clubs (those more successful on a global stage) were bringing in most of the money, revenues still continued to be shared equally. This is beginning to change as traditional top six clubs demand more to be able to compete on a global scale.Masters’ job is to keep everyone happy. Simply put, without the big-name clubs, the Premier League doesn’t bring in the big broadcast revenues and the so-called smaller clubs are able to compete even less than they are right now. Again, another sad reality of the modern game.

Unfortunately, the role of the Premier League is not to serve the fans. We all wish it was, but it’s not. If that’s what people want to change by way of protest, then that’s another (very worthy) campaign. But target your club, not the league. The league are ust acting on behalf of your club in everything they do.

So, what does all this mean for NUFC?

It means that if Saudi Arabia, PIF, and those within PCP couldn’t satisfy the Premier League that it wasn’t going to cease pirating its product, how could it possibly be allowed to buy one of its 20 clubs?

In behind closed doors COVID-era football clubs are having to forego match-day revenue.At Man. United this makes up an 18% share of total revenue, at recently relegated Bournemouth it’s a mere 3.8% –so called smaller clubs like Bournemouth need TV money desperately and are going to become even more reliant on it. With that in mind, what incentive is there for Masters and his clubs to sanction a deal that is going to completely ruin its relationship with one of its main TV benefactors and trusted, long term partner BeIN Sports? Let’s not forget that in 2019, £123.9m of NUFC’s £176.4m revenue came from broadcasters like BeIN. That’s how important this money is for clubs like ours.

Yes,NUFC is crying out for change. Yes, Mike Ashley is abhorrent. But the key difference here is that his practices don’t currently jeopardise the revenues of the 19 other clubs in the division. The practices of our potential new owners absolutely do.

Saya club like Burnley were taken over by Saudi Arabia. The deal goes through, and BeIN Sports immediately, and rightly, cut ties with the Premier League creating a massive hole in every club’s income. Would BeIN do this? They did with Formula 1, pulling out of its contract due to a lack of action on Saudi Arabia’s piracy. “A rights holder’s stance on BeoutQ’s piracyis a critical factor that we’re now considering when bidding.” said a BeIN spokesperson at the time. In other words, they’re taking legal action, making a public stand, and doing everything within their power to combat the industrial-scale theft of their rights.

So, say Burnley become Saudi-owned and flush with cash, but other clubs, in desperate need of revenue, find themselves in a situation whereby a guaranteed revenue stream from a trusted partner is blocked all for the benefit of one club becoming immensely wealthy overnight. Is that fair? 

‘But the Saudi’s are willing to buy those rights from BeIN’, we hear?That may be true. But that sets a very dangerous precedent whereby the league is essentially forced into agreeing deals with those who illegally steal its product, those who think they can act lawlessly thenjust splash the cash to get their way. What’s more, they’ve been asked multiple times to stop it and haven’t. In fact, they’ve doubled down on it of late.If the Premier League were to green light a Saudi takeover, it could be argued, that would bea more blatant demonstration of corruption.

If all the above is true, why doesn’t the Premier League come out and say so?Come clean with fans and tell it like it is? The honest answer is I don’t know. Maybe they should. I’d love them to and I think they will at somepoint. The fans deserve answers, absolutely. But who do they deserve answers from? Could our prospective owners not provide more detail on the reality of the situation? Surely,a delay isn’t enough to force them towalk away? There’s a number of parties here who can provide fans with the actual truth.

For the Premier League, maybe the political nature of it all means they’re being advised not to criticise a nation whose Crown Prince has had tea with The Queen and walked through the front door of 10 Downing Street. Whether it be relations with the royal family or investment in other areas in the country as a recession looms, I can’t imagine the government being too pleased if the Premier League criticise Saudi Arabia more than they already have done. Even if Richard Masters said he’s “not aware of government placing any pressure on the Premier League, one way or another, in relation to any takeover”.

Maybe on legal grounds the Premier League don’t have the ability to make such a claim on piracy (Saudi Arabia claims BeoutQ is based in Cuba and Columbia even though evidence suggests this isn’t the case), but it’s the worst kept secret in sport – in fact it’s not even a secret, Saudi steal content, not just sports content, they steal all forms of it from all over the world and have been put on a ‘priority watch list’ by the US for “failing to protect and enforce intellectual property rights around the world”.

Ultimately, fans want the truth. We’re often the last people considered in footballing matters,which is ultimately the crux of many fans’ arguments in this whole saga,but it also feels like it’s glaringly obvious what the truth is.As Matt Slater’s article in The Athletic suggested, the collapse was “1000% down to piracy”. It doesn’t get much clearer.But that’s not what our potential buyers want us to believe. Ultimately, they don’t typically deal in the truth, as we’ve seen on piracy but also on the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

What if Saudi Arabia stopped the piracy? They won’t. Their beef with Qatar is a bigger priority to them than buying a controlling stake in a Premier League club. They need to save face when it comes to their geopolitical standoff with Qatar, neither Saudi or Qatar will flinch, it’s a stalemate and the consequence is their NUFC takeover is off.

So, who is to blame in all of this? Richard Masters? The Premier League? The clubs who supported the blocking of the deal? Or the potential buyer who had the rules clearly laid out a long time ago and failed to follow them after being given many warnings on what they needed to do?

On a personal note, whilst I’m more desperate than anyone for the departure of Mike Ashley, the jubilation might have been short lived when you realise just what we would have become as a club.Let’s not kid ourselves, Saudi Arabia buying a Premier League club would be sports washing at its purest. This isn’t a fanatical owner who’s been a Toon fan since he was four years old who wants to buy our club and invest in our city out of the goodness of his heart.

I’m a realist and under no illusion that if I really do want change like I claim to, there’s likely to be compromise required. I don’t think we’ll ever get the owner wetruly deserve, like FSGat Liverpool, for example. Who knows, maybe we will have to get into bed with a sovereign wealth fund for the club to move forward, but I’ve waited 13 years for the departure of Ashley so can probably hang on a little bit longer in the hope we get something that feels a bit closer to the ‘right’ owners.Ones who don’t lie and disregard the rules laid out by those who administer the league we currently play in. I can’t wait too much longer I must add!

Finally, after the doom and gloom of the above reality, one huge, underappreciated positive in all of this is that Ashley is now clearly willing to sell, something he clearly wasn’t willing to do before. Progress, undoubtedly. There are many people looking to buy sporting clubs, there always is. Perhaps more so in a global recession when there may be cut price bargains to be had.

Hopefully, the right one will come around soon enough for Newcastle United.