How Peterborough United’s Canadian co-owners went from almost buying Ebbsfleet to promotion glory
Speaking in a recent interview, Posh co-owner Stewart Thompson talked fans through how himself and business partner Jason Neale came to invest in the club.
The pair took a 50 percent ownership share in the club in March 2018 and since then, have helped provide the impetus for the club buying back the Weston Homes Stadium from Peterborough City Council, investing in the youth academy and training facilities, moving forward with plans to build a new stadium and most importantly, winning promotion to the Championship.
They became business partners in 2016 and both grew up supporting English clubs Mr Thompson, Newcastle, and Dr Neale, Southampton; so once they had achieved business success together, channelling their energies into their joint passion seemed like the logical next step.
Mr Thompson said: “One of my favourite magazines on football is called When Saturday Comes and it really focuses on the lower leagues and on that community feeling; how does a community run a club? How does a chairman manage expectations?
“Those clubs aren’t there to chase the Chelsea brass ring, they are run by the community and they say here’s how much money we’ve got, we’re going to get a fiver for you walking in the door and we might get more money for pulling a beer and that’s what I was looking at.
“As a tech investor, I was looking at some of the things coming out of this magazine; Ebbsfleet were going crowdfunding, some people were thinking about going public, all of the tools we use in technology investing. I went ‘that’s crazy, don’t crowdfund whatever you do,’ so Jason and I started kicking this idea around.
“I was a chicken, Jason was more courageous. We became partners in 2016 with our venture fund and right from the beginning we would talk football with each other. I’d always say, wouldn’t it be great just to own a lower league team, it’d cost us £250,000, between the two of us we can come up with that, and we’d just run it like a business.
“We both thought about it, I thought about Ebbsfleet and I looked at some National League clubs and that was going to be our entrance. As soon as the brokers found out though, it was like piranhas feeding on a cow. Every single day there would be brokers contacting us about clubs that were ownerless, broke and heading towards administration. You had the likes of Bury, Leyton Orient, Botlon and Wigan.
“What pivoted our thinking was the fact we own a debt fund. We were thinking we could probably find investors who would take on the debt, we could turn the club around, pay the interest and basically back end our way in and so, we’d figure out a business way to get ourselves up into League One or League Two management.
“Then along came the broker out of the blue. He said, ‘Look, I haven’t talked to the Irishman but I think he’s tired, he’s been doing this for 13 years on his own and I think what he really needs is a shot in the arm. Is it alright with you guys if I make the phone call?’
“We were also in the middle of doing a deal for another club in League One and he (Darragh) said: ‘I’m not looking for partners but how about we have a talk and I’ll tell you what you should be looking for in a club you’re looking to buy.
“It turned out he was in Las Vegas for a Conor McGregor fight, we were in Las Vegas for a conference so we went for Lattes in the Bellagio.
“We got together and I just love him, Darragh and I get along like a house on fire, I think he is great and Jason is an engineer with two MBAs and loves a good spreadsheet. He’s the one that says let’s settle down gentlemen and see what the model says, so it’s a super good balance.
“We were able to get in in a way that made sense, we had some upcoming transfers, we had personal methodologies and we were able to get into League One but the whole time, I was blowing into a brown paper bag because we were a long way from buying Ebbsfleet now.”
As for the reasons, the club was such an attractive prospect to invest in, Mr Thompson insisted that it was a number of factors but a big one was MacAnthony himself.
He added: “In East Anglia, you have to think what’s the catchment area? It’s not just the 250k people of Peterborough. Cambridge is an hour away by car, Norwich is the largest club and it’s much further away; so the catchment area is almost 750k.
“On top of that, who do we have to compete with in the youth academy? If we were in Manchester and we brought Oldham, for example, are they going to come to our academy or are they going to go down the road and see those guys in red shirts?
“We’ve got a great catchment area and a great youth catchment area. We were looking for business and youth and we got that with Peterborough.
“It was also easy to buy into a club which has Darragh MacAnthony and his eye for start-ups. You just have to look at the player’s we’ve had. He did a spreadsheet for us, he’d spent £4.5m and got £49m in transfer fees.”
Mr Thompson was speaking on a recent episode of the Soccer Snobs podcast.