Saturday, June 20, 2009

Liverpool co-owner agrees to sell the Montreal Canadiens

Liverpool owner George Gillett has agreed to sell the NHL's Montreal Canadiens to the Molson family in a deal that could help lift the financial cloud over the Premier League club.

The deal to sell the NHL's most successful ever team is worth a reported $550m (£330m).

Gillett put the Canadiens up for sale earlier this year as he scrambles to find funds to meet obligations on debt incurred as part of his takeover of Liverpool in partnership with Tom Hicks.

The sale includes Gillett's 80% stake in the team, the Bell Centre arena, and the Gillett Entertainment Group. Brewing moguls the Molsons, who sold the controlling interest in the team to Gillett for around $275m (£165 ) in 2001, already own the remaining 20% share.

''This is a very exciting time for our family and we are grateful to the many people and organisations who came forward to offer their collaboration in the development of our proposal,'' Geoff Molson said in a statement.

The sale must first be approved by the NHL's Board of Governors, and will likely not be completed for several more weeks.

The NHL's approval of the sale would, however, seemingly be only a matter of course.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman responded positively to the news of the deal, saying: ''I think to the extent that they've been able to find people who are obviously passionate about the game and structure a transaction that makes sense for everybody, that's a real plus for the franchise and the fans in Montreal.''

News of the deal comes a little over two weeks after Liverpool's accountants warned of ''significant doubt'' over the club's parent company's ability to continue as a going concern with debt repayments due on July 24.

The company formed by Gillett and Hicks suffered a loss of £42.6m ($70.5m) last year, largely on interest repayments. The pair took out a loan of £350m ($580m) when they bought the club in 2007.

While Hicks and Gillett have been seeking other investors for Liverpool, they have so far come back empty-handed, meaning funds from a sale of the Canadiens could be needed to help cover upcoming payments.

Hicks has also been seeking to sell off elements of his own sporting empire - which includes Major League Baseball's Texas Rangers and the NHL's Dallas Stars.

Hicks' situation is further complicated as the Hicks Sports Group in April defaulted on a £325m loan ($525m) relating to the Rangers and Stars.

The Canadiens, who are celebrating their centenary year, are the oldest continually run professional ice hockey team in North America. Their 24 Stanley Cup titles are the most in the NHL.

''Our family has been very proud to be associated with the Montreal Canadiens over the past eight years and particularly to be a part of their Centennial Season,'' Gillet said after confirming the deal.

''I am fully confident that the Molson brothers, who have been a great part of the heritage of the club, will ensure the preservation and development of this great sports institution.''

The Molson family first bought the team in 1978, although their involvement dates back to the 1950s.

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