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New QPR Owner Fernandes Sponsors Premier League’s Referees

Tony Fernandes, the new majority owner of west London soccer team Queens Park Rangers, already has interests in the Premier League: A company he founded sponsors the referees.

Tune Group Sdn. Bhd. -- parent company of the budget airline AirAsia, controlled by the tycoon since 2001 -- agreed on a three-year contract last year to have its brand emblazoned on the uniforms of match officials. The Professional Game Match Officials board said the deal was worth “seven figures.”

Fernandes, announced today as QPR’s owner, said he’s spoken to the Premier League about the agreement and doesn’t think it’s a problem.

“I actually conveniently forgot about it,” Fernandes, chief executive officer of AirAsia, said in an interview at QPR’s stadium. “I don’t think any referees are going to say ‘Tune is sponsoring me so I am going to make sure QPR win.’”

The officials board said today the sponsorship is a “valued partnership.”

“There is no direct contact between Tune and PGMO officials, and this will continue,” PGMO said in a statement. “The sponsorship was agreed by the PGMO board, made up of an independent chairman and representatives from the Football Association, Premier League and Football League.”

England’s top division is the richest in world soccer, with its latest three-year television contract generating about 3 billion pounds ($4.9 billion). The matches are available in 211 territories and reach 650 million households, according to league figures.

Fernandes bought a 66 percent share in QPR, which was promoted at the end of last season, from Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore, his partner. The billionaire Mittal family will retain one-third of the club.

Formula One Team

Malaysia’s Fernandes, 47, is also involved in Formula One as the head of Team Lotus.

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. The AirAsia brand sponsored Premier League match officials between 2007 and 2010.

Tune Group’s portfolio also includes hotels and online banking portal Tune Money.

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