PA Sport Staff
Southampton have confirmed the club’s takeover by Dragan Solak-backed investment firm Sport Republic.
Chinese businessman Jisheng Gao has been looking to sell the 80 per cent stake he purchased in Saints in 2017 for several years.
Gao has now sold his shareholding in Southampton to sport and entertainment investment firm Sport Republic, with Katharina Liebherr retaining her 20 per cent stake.
Serbian businessman Solak is the lead investor in the London-based firm, which was founded by Rasmus Ankersen – who recently stepped down as Brentford co-director of football – and Henrik Kraft.
A new era at #SaintsFC 😇
We can confirm that Sport Republic has completed the acquisition of a controlling stake in Southampton Football Club.
— Southampton FC (@SouthamptonFC) January 4, 2022
Solak said: “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.
“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 fanbase.
“We are delighted to be able to complete this acquisition as a first step towards execution of our investment strategy. Southampton will be a cornerstone of the organisation we plan to build.”
Saints say Sport Republic’s “vision is to apply proprietary intelligence and data analytics to help sports businesses and sports technology companies reach their full potential”.
Ankersen, who until recently was executive chairman of FC Midtjylland on top of his role at Brentford, is chief executive of the firm, with fellow co-founder Kraft acting as chairman.
“We will be an active and engaged owner, but we will not be starting any revolutions,” Kraft said.
“We were attracted to Southampton because it is already a well-run club that follows a clearly defined strategy.
“Southampton’s CEO Martin Semmens will continue to run the day-to-day operations of the club, and Sport Republic will be working closely with him and his team to help the club grow.”
Exciting news for @SouthamptonFC looking forward to seeing what the future holds. Thank you to Mr Gao and family, it was lovely to have met you and best of luck in the future.
— Matt Le Tissier🌸 (@mattletiss7) January 4, 2022
Chief executive Semmens said Southampton “searched the world for good people with the ambition and resources to lead us into the next era and I am happy to confirm we have found them”.
“Over the last two years, together with the shareholders of our club, we have searched for the right partner to take the club forward,” he said. “Today we have found the perfect solution for our club.
“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.
“Today we welcome a new beginning with a new ownership group. We have found partners with ambition for the future, but with a clear understanding of what Southampton stands for and the direction we must go in now.
“The strategy is to push forward with the plans we have had in place over the last two years, but with their support we can now do this with a renewed focus and speed.
“Continuity, stability, and clarity of the way forward are equally as important as the new initiatives and ideas we can now bring to the club.
“Sport Republic is being built to provide a network of people, clubs, and technology that allows the clubs within it to grow every day and gain the advantages you need to be successful.
“As a club, we have never wanted to buy success, but to earn it. Sport Republic gives us the power to improve our operations at every level, helping us to reach for the success our staff work so hard for, and our fans crave.”