Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Gillet denies selling his stake at Anfield

American businessman George Gillett angrily denied on Wednesday reports that he is considering selling his sporting assets including Premier League soccer club Liverpool and NHL team the Montreal Canadiens.

Gillett slammed media reports that he was preparing to dismantle his sporting empire which also includes the NASCAR team Richard Petty Motorsports.

"What was told to the media was that we are doing some estate planning and looking at various assets to see whether we should refinance them, sell them, buy them, nothing urgent, we were just starting the process," Gillett told reporters at the SportAccord convention. "We had engaged six investment advisors around the world and it got reported as four and that we were selling assets as opposed to estate planning.

"Even when you think you're doing it right it gets distorted. There is no story yet, we'll find out what it is when we get the reports.

"The need to make headlines sometimes transcends research."

There has been speculation for months that Gillett was looking to sell the Canadiens. He denied this was the case in December.

Gillett owns 80.1% of the Canadiens and 50% of five-times European champions Liverpool.

Gillett and co-owner Tom Hicks have endured a stormy relationship since taking control of Liverpool for £218.9m ($319.2m) in February 2007.

Neither man wants to sell his stake to the other. Last year Gillett said he was prepared to sell his holding to Dubai International Capital but a proposed deal fell through.

The Canadiens said on Monday that the Gillett family had retained the services of financial advisors in order to assess strategic alternatives to optimise the value of their corporate assets.

An intensely private man, Gillett labelled the reports an attack on his family's privacy.

"I think estate planning is as close to family private off the record you can get," said Gillett. "Yet somehow it has become a matter worldwide speculation.

"I came as a young man from a farm in Wisconsin; I am not use to this type of attention and this kind of impoliteness.

"I'm really offended by it because it is truly private. I know it affects assets we all know and love but it doesn't affect the operation of the businesses.

"The businesses are all in excellent shape financially, they are all healthy, they have strong incomes and relatively small debt in this difficult world."

Gillett did not sound like an owner preparing to unload any of his sporting assets, arguing that sport was one of the best places to weather the economic crisis.

"There some serious financial implications to what is going on in the world and the world economy but frankly we are fortunate to be involved in sports and sports entertainment," he said. "I can tell you the last place to lose support is entertainment and within the entertainment core the last place to lose support is sports.

"Sport is a refuge worldwide and I truly believe that. Historically entertainment is the last affected going into a downturn and it is the first coming back out.

"We are in a world of turmoil and hurt but I think we in sport are in the best spot in that world of hurt."

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