QPR Owners Won’t Burn Mittal’s Billions to Get Soccer Glory

Queens Park Rangers owner Tony Fernandes said he won’t try to match big-spending rivals even after teaming with one of the world’s richest families at the newly promoted Premier League soccer club.

Fernandes, the chief executive officer of Malaysia’s AirAsia Bhd, yesterday agreed to buy 66 percent of west London-based QPR from Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone and his partner Flavio Briatore.

The balance of the team is retained by the family of metals executive Lakshmi Mittal, whose estimated fortune of 17.5 billion pounds ($29 billion) placed him atop May’s Sunday Times ranking of the 1,000 wealthiest people in the U.K. for a seventh year. Fernandes, a former Time Warner Inc. executive, has a net worth of $470 million, according to Forbes magazine.

“I’m not in the same league as the Mittals,” Fernandes, 47, said in an interview in a luxury box at QPR’s Loftus Road stadium yesterday.

Fernandes said he won’t follow the approach of some of the league’s richest owners. Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan has spent about $1 billion on Manchester City since acquiring it in 2008, while Roman Abramovich’s spending of almost a billion pounds allowed Chelsea to win three league titles during his eight-year reign.

“I philosophically don’t believe that’s the way to build a football club,” Fernandes said. “It’s important to build deep structures and to build from the bottom up.”

‘Proper Business’

The Mittals, who are represented on the QPR board by Lakshmi Mittal’s son-in-law Amit Bhatia, and Fernandes have said they’ll run the team like a “proper business” and expect it to be profitable. More than half of the clubs in the 20-team Premier League, which is the richest in world soccer, lose money as record broadcast revenue is spent on players.

QPR was promoted after winning the second-tier Championship last season and manager Neil Warnock said the team needs new players if it’s to stay in the top flight. It was beaten 4-0 by Bolton at home in its opening match last week.

QPR last played in the Premier League 15 years ago. The arrival of Ecclestone, Briatore and the Mittals in 2007 restored financial stability after years of turbulence. Warnock became coach in March 2010 and led the team to the second-tier title.

Fernandes said avoiding relegation is a priority and there is money to buy players such as West Ham midfielder Scott Parker before the European trading window closes on Aug. 31.

“I don’t think if you went out and spent 100 million pounds that would guarantee success,” he said. “The squad we have is very good and just needs to be strengthened a little.”

West Ham Fan

Fernandes twice failed to buy West Ham, the team he said he’s a lifelong supporter of, before acquiring QPR. He declined to reveal how much he paid for his stake, saying only that “everyone felt good after the deal.” He paid 35 million pounds, according to the Guardian newspaper.

Bhatia was reinstated as vice chairman yesterday after quitting the role this year following a fallout with Ecclestone and Briatore over issues including a surge of up to 40 percent in ticket prices this season.

“It’s fair to have some hike in ticket prices but I don’t like the idea that people who have supported this club through three or four different divisions won’t be given the opportunity to support the club at this level,” Bhatia said in an interview. “We hope we can rectify these mistakes.”

Price Review

Prices will be reviewed in the coming week and the club may announce a decision before its next home league game against Newcastle on Sept. 12, Bhatia said.

Fernandes, who’ll become chairman of QPR Holdings Ltd, said shareholders in AirAsia, which has gone from being a two-plane startup in 2001 to the continent’s biggest listed budget airline, shouldn’t worry about where his priorities lie.

He said the airline’s performance since his acquisition of Formula One’s Team Lotus in December 2009 is evidence that the latest venture won’t distract him.

“My role here is chairman but my job is AirAsia,” Fernandes said. “When there was concern that Formula One would distract me, actually we’ve had the best ever results and our stock price has gone up 300 percent since F-1.”

Fernandes hired Phil Beard to be chief executive officer of QPR overseeing its day-to-day operations.

Because the Premier League can be viewed in 211 territories, QPR has “enormous” potential to market his other compnies, Fernandes said. The logo of one business may appear on the front of the team’s shirts, he said.

Previous sponsorship programs allowed AirAsia to increase passenger numbers to 32 million from 200,000 in 10 years, he said.

“We realized early on with AirAsia the phenomenal power of branding,” Fernandes said. “That couldn’t have been done without the investments we’ve made in sponsorship opportunities.”

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