Italian Aristocrat’s Fund Sues After Soccer Investment FlopsTariq Panja
Global Eleven, a soccer investment fund whose backers include the son of an Italian count, sued Swiss sports marketer Kentaro, saying it failed to return profits from matches played by five-time world champion Brazil.
“The company is currently in litigation with Kentaro for breach of contract and for non-payment of amounts due and ongoing under those contracts,” Global Eleven’s administrator Nick Hoskins, a lawyer with Bermuda-based Wakefield Quin, said in an e-mailed statement. “Until this matter is resolved, it isn’t possible to comment any further.”
Global Eleven raised as much as $20 million to invest in marketing rights for exhibition games played by Brazil that Kentaro held until last year. The fund also bet on the transfer rights of players from South America where groups lend money to teams in return for a stake in the sale price of athletes. The sport’s governing body is mulling whether to ban the practice.
Global Eleven’s suit against Kentaro of Wil, Switzerland, seeks about $8 million in damages, said two people familiar with the matter. Most of the claim is linked to Brazil’s exhibition games, which Kentaro began promoting in 2006. The rest is tied to loan fees the fund allegedly should have been paid after players were placed with European teams, said the people, who asked not to be identified because of the pending case.
Kentaro Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Hill and company spokesman Johannes Berendt declined to comment.
Global Eleven was set up by Indoo Sella Di Monteluce, an Italian aristocrat, and Kentaro Chief Executive Officer Philippe Huber, whose company is an investor. Iveagh Ltd., a London-based firm created to oversee the wealth of the Guinness brewing dynasty, was hired as investment manager in return for 2 percent of the fund’s net asset value. Iveagh spokesman Paul Wynne declined to comment. Sella Di Monteluce’s father, Count Nicolo Sella Di Monteluce, is a non-executive director at Iveagh, which also manages his family’s money.
London-based Syrian businessman Khaled Chehabi, a former Iveagh employee, helped double the fund’s size by attracting investment from the Abu Dhabi-based Baniyas Sports Club and Qatar-based conglomerate Ghanim Bin Saad Al Saad & Sons Group Holdings, two of the people said. The sports club’s president is United Arab Emirates Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
GSSG, named for its chairman Ghanim Bin Saad, the CEO of state-owned Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Co., is the fund’s biggest investor after providing as much as $10 million.
Huber, Sella Di Monteluce and Chehabi sit on Global Eleven’s investment committee. GSSG became involved after Chehabi helped broker a 2010 exhibition match between Brazil and Argentina played in Doha, Qatar, which was sponsored by GSSG. Kentaro lost its rights to Brazil games last year to London-based Pitch International.
Chehabi, whose family also is a small investor in the fund, declined to comment when contacted by telephone. Barclay Saastad, head of GSSG’s European office, and Baniyas spokesman Nader Saleh Abuhayyeh didn’t respond to e-mails seeking comment.
Kentaro, which sells broadcast rights to international soccer matches for more than 20 European federations, has struggled to pay rightsholders on time, according to one of the people familiar with its situation.
In March, Kentaro lost its contract to broadcast a World Cup qualifier between England and Montenegro days before the game over a dispute over payments, according to one of the people. U.K. broadcaster ITV Plc has been negotiating with Kentaro to recover the money paid under the original deal.
Financial results for the company’s U.K. subsidiary, Kentaro Ltd., carry a note from its auditor Rawlinson & Hunter saying there was “material uncertainty which may cast significant doubts about the group’s ability to continue as a going concern.”
Global Eleven’s player-investment business, which aimed to profit from betting on the increase in value for South American players, failed to make a profit from its investments, according to company documents obtained by Bloomberg.
Buying player rights carries significant risks, said Jochen Loesch, president of international business at Traffic Sports, one of soccer’s biggest investment funds. It spent more than $75 million on purchasing stakes since 2007.
“We have huge downside,” he said. “If the player isn’t sold, we don’t get a penny.”
According to Global Eleven documents, the fund has invested in nine players and has an agreement with Africa Soccer Developments, a youth academy in Cape Town, for a 50 percent share of any profits from player sales.
The biggest outlay was on Paraguayan attacking midfielder Rodrigo Rojas, 25. The “all-in cost” to acquire a 40 percent stake in Rojas was $909,000, with the remainder shared between his first team Club Olimpia and Argentine sports agency Full Play, according to company documents.
The fund’s minimum acceptable transfer price for Rojas was $2,775,974, according to the 2012 papers. Rojas now plays for Chilean team O’Higgins, which is paying $40,000 for the remaining 18 months of his contract. In 2011, he spent a few months with a lower-ranked team in Belgium, an entrance point for more lucrative European leagues for players from outside the continent.