Queens Park Rangers Bought by AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes

Queens Park Rangers, promoted to English soccer’s Premier League at the end of last season, has been bought by Tony Fernandes, chief executive officer of Malaysia’s AirAsia Bhd. (AIRA)

Fernandes’s Tune Group is buying a 66 percent stake in the club from Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone and his partner Flavio Briatore, with the balance retained by metals billionaire Lakshmi Mittal’s family. Financial terms weren’t revealed at a press conference at the club’s west London stadium. The deal was worth 35 million pounds ($57.6 million), the Guardian reported.

“I grew up down the road, and never did I dream that one day I’d be here as the chairman of the club. I’m absolutely thrilled,” Fernandes told reporters.

The Malaysian will become chairman of QPR Holdings Ltd., with Amit Bhatia, son-in-law of Mittal, resuming his role as vice-chairman after quitting earlier this year. Fernandes said he and Bhatia shared “the same vision” for QPR.

“I think we’ll form a good partnership in taking what I think is an unpolished diamond and helping it to become a fully fledged diamond over the next period of years.”

Both men stressed their support for coach Neil Warnock, and Fernandes said the club would give him whatever he needed, “to the best of our ability,” to take the team forward. He said he hoped the club would be able to give Warnock the “support and love that he requires.”

Takeover Talk

Takeover speculation has surrounded the club since Ecclestone said in April that he might sell it for 100 million pounds. On July 28, QPR said it had started talks with a new potential buyer after discussions with another party ended in March.

Fernandes is the latest overseas investor to buy into the world’s richest soccer league, which has more than 1 billion pounds in broadcast revenue. Russia’s Roman Abramovich, at Chelsea, and the U.S. Glazer family at Manchester United, are among the owners.

Fernandes, 47, is also involved in Formula One as the head of Team Lotus. He was unsuccessful in attempts to buy east London’s West Ham, the club where he says he’s been a lifelong fan. The Hammers, bought by David Sullivan and David Gold, have since been relegated from the Premier League.

Under Fernandes, a former Time Warner Inc. executive, AirAsia has gone from being a two-plane startup in 2001 to Asia’s biggest listed budget airline. He has a net worth of $470 million, according to Forbes magazine, and is a sponsor of the Oakland Raiders team in the National Football League.

‘Momentous’

“It’s a momentous day,” Warnock, who led QPR to promotion last season, said. “What we’ve done in such a short space of time is incredible, but we needed to go a step further. To get Tony on board and listen to his ideas and what his plans are for the club, I think everybody connected with QPR should be excited about the whole prospect. We’ve got there, to the promised land, but we want to stay there and build the club.”

Fans will be looking to the new owner to spend more money on players to help it stay in the top division after QPR crashed 4-0 at home to Bolton Wanderers in its opening league game last weekend.

In May, vice-chairman Bhatia quit the board after a disagreement over ticket-price increases -- which have angered fans -- and changes to club management. Bhatia confirmed at the time that the Mittals wished to buy Ecclestone’s stake but had been rebuffed.

“It is indeed a momentous day in the history of the club,” said Bhatia today. “We need to start looking towards the future with our primary goal being to remain in the Premiership this season and hopefully for many seasons.”

Mittal Stake

The Mittal family took a stake in QPR in December 2007, three months after billionaire Ecclestone and Briatore bought the team for 1 million pounds and assumed debt of 13 million pounds. Lakshmi Mittal is chief executive officer of ArcelorMittal (MT), the world’s biggest steelmaker.

Before the latest promotion, the team last played in the Premier League 15 years ago. The arrival of Ecclestone, Briatore and the Mittals restored financial stability after years of turbulence. There were constant coaching changes, though, before Warnock got the job in March 2010 and led the team to winning the second-tier championship in May this year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Peter-Joseph Hegarty in London at phegarty@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Elser at celser@bloomberg.net

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