RedBird Capital Partners has acquired a controlling stake in Toulouse Football Club, a French team relegated this season after 16 years in the top division.
RedBird, a private equity firm founded by Gerry Cardinale, acquired an 85% stake in the team from Olivier Sadran, who keeps the remaining ownership interest and remains on the Board of Directors.
Cardinale declined to disclose financial terms of the sale, saying only that RedBird “struck a very attractive arrangement that is also reflective of the amount of work we are going to have to do to get this back to first tier.”
As part of the deal Damien Comolli, whose resume includes stints at English Premier League teams Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham, will become the club’s executive director in charge of its football operations, including the first team, academy and development programs.
RedBird’s move is the latest U.S. investment in European soccer. The EPL, for instance, includes a handful of American owners, including Boston Red Sox owner John Henry at Liverpool. In France, former Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt controls first division side Marseille.
Cardinale said he spent three years looking at more than 70 teams. He chose Toulouse for a number of reasons, including the city’s size and the team’s overall potential on- and off the field.
As for the soccer part, Cardinale said he’d focus on player development and data analytics, developing and promoting players from within.
On the business side, U.S. buyers often seek to upgrade stadium and practice facilities and bolster media rights, sponsorship and ticketing, bringing them all closer to the model utilized by the major U.S. sports leagues.
“We aspire to put it all under one roof,’’ Cardinale said. “We want to get it back to a world class level.”
Relegated teams are entitled to two years’ of parachute payments, the amount determined by how long the club resided in Ligue 1.
Toulouse is also home to a rugby team, which occasionally uses the soccer stadium. Cardinale declined to comment on the possibility of acquiring the rugby team, too, and creating a bigger sports and entertainment company in France’s fourth-largest city.
“We have to walk before we run,” he said.