Premier League contenders Manchester City have partnered with the National Rugby League’s (NRL) Melbourne Storm to acquire Hyundai A-League club Melbourne Heart FC.
City have acquired 80 per cent of the Heart, which was formed in 2009, with the Storm now holding the remaining 20 per cent.
The model is similar to that employed by City’s Abu Dhabi-based owners when they announced the creation of a new Major League Soccer (MLS) team, New York City FC, last May, working in partnership with Major League Baseball’s (MLB) New York Yankees. The new club will join MLS in 2015.
No financial terms were officially announced but Australian newspapers reported the fee to be around AUS$11 million (US$9.7 million) to the Heart’s existing ownership, led by chairman Peter Sidwell.
“The board feels that with the successful establishment and evolution of the club over the last four years, Melbourne Heart now stands on sound commercial and financial foundations. The board feels that the next phase of the club’s development can be most fully realised with this new investment and the associated benefits that the enthusiasm of the consortium will bring”.
Discussions on the sale were led by Bart Campbell, who last year led the group which acquired the Storm. He said: “Partnering with City to co-invest in Melbourne Heart will further strengthen the sporting landscape in one of the world’s greatest cities and bring a range of new capabilities to AAMI Park.
“We are excited to be a part of this unique project. It is our shared ambition to replicate the model that City created with the New York Yankees around New York City FC and for both organisations to benefit as a result”.
City’s chief executive, Ferran Soriano, added: “We are excited about the opportunity to make Melbourne Heart one of the most successful football clubs in Australia and throughout the region.
“We believe the strong sports culture of Melbourne combined with the football and commercial expertise within our consortium will make for a powerful combination both on and off the pitch”.
Soriano added that the new ownership group would take its time before making any significant changes to the club. No announcements are expected until midway through the year.
The news has been interpreted as a sign of the ten-team A-League’s growing stature. Football Federation of Australia chief executive David Gallop said: “Football has moved into the mainstream of Australian sport and is ideally placed to benefit from the boom in football across Asia.
“Manchester City and their Australian partners have made a strategic investment and I welcome them to our growing competition. It’s another sign that the world is taking notice of Australian football.
Heart currently sit bottom of the league, with just eight points from 15 games.