On June 15, Jean-Michel Aulas celebrated 35 years since taking power at the head of Olympique Lyonnais (OL). Barely a week later, the emblematic president of OL is about to conclude the sale of the football club, seven-time champion of France: meeting on Monday, June 20, the board of directors recorded the opening of negotiations exclusive agreements for the sale of approximately 66.56% of the capital of OL Groupe to the Eagle Football holding company of the American businessman John Textor. This participation should reach 80% at the end of the process.
If this operation – which should take place “from September 2022 and conclude during the fourth quarter” – sounds like a historic development, it does not yet sign the end of the “Aulas era”: “JMA”, 73 years old, will remain at the head of OL for a period “of at least three years”. “This new shareholder will be an accelerator for our current and future projects”, explains Jean-Michel Aulas.
The proposal from John Textor, who already owns football clubs Crystal Palace, Britain, Botafogo, Brazil, and Molenbeek, Belgium, was in competition with three other bids. She is the one who has reconciled a satisfactory amount valuing the club at 800 million euros and the strongest financial guarantees. “The project that I discovered in Lyon with Jean-Michel Aulas and all his teams will be at the epicenter of our new organization and our investments in the service of world football, said John Textor, Olympique Lyonnais will be the cornerstone cornerstone of our project. »
John Textor has agreed to proceed with an immediate capital increase of 86 million euros. As the club is listed on the stock exchange, the takeover will take place after a simplified tender offer process.
Pathé wanted to speed up its release
For more than three months, the Pathé and IDG groups, main shareholders of OL alongside Jean-Michel Aulas, had announced their desire to end their Lyon adventure and commissioned the American bank Raine to find buyers.
The group from the film industry, historical investor in the club since 1999, held 19.38% of the shares of OL Groupe, while the Chinese investment fund, which arrived in 2016, owned 19.85%. Jean-Michel Aulas remained the major shareholder with 27.72% of the shares. He therefore sells a significant part of the shares of his Holnest holding company in the operation.
The crisis affecting the cinema, aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic, accelerated the decision of Jérôme Seydoux, boss of Pathé. “Things over time have broken down a bit between the two shareholders, confided an observer of the Lyon microcosm. With the drop in cinema attendance, Pathé urgently needs capital and wants its money before the start of the summer. »
For its part, IDG, which is not at the origin of the operation without opposing it, had expressed only one wish: to recover a capital gain, however small it may be.
Economic second wind
Former first deputy mayor of Lyon when Jean-Michel Aulas became the owner of the local club, André Soulier, neighbor of the Seydoux family in Beaujolais, knows the protagonists of the affair well. “I don’t blame Jerome at all for leaving. He has the right to sell his shares, notes the 89-year-old lawyer. He gave Jean-Michel considerable support at a time when OL needed to strengthen. This made it possible to begin this exceptional adventure that is Groupama Stadium “, the stadium in which OL have been playing since 2016.
Faced with Qatari competition from PSG, that of the American billionaire Frank McCourt at OM or even the Russian oligarch Dmitri Rybolovlev at Monaco, the club felt the need for a second economic wind. Especially since bad news has not stopped hitting OL in recent seasons.
Sportingly, the results are far below expectations, especially with non-qualification for the European Cup for next season. Financially, the crisis due to SARS-CoV-2 deprived OL of income linked to its stadium for more than a year, for losses estimated at 100 million euros.
Even before Pathé’s decision, Jean-Michel Aulas had decided to prospect for new investors, without having set a deadline. A relative of the club mentions the existence of “discussions with many interlocutors”, however not for a sale, but for “a capital increase”.
“Strong, Built Club”
French football is, today, the hottest market for American and Middle Eastern shareholders. The only club that has its own stadium, training center, leisure complex (OL Vallée), a women’s soccer franchise in the United States and a new 16,000-seat Arena that will come out of the ground at the end of 2023 (to host basketball, concerts, seminars), OL was attractive. “The bride is beautiful for foreign investors,” said someone close to the case.
“On the capitalistic and financial aspect in general, [Jean-Michel Aulas] has never been very wrong in his career. It is its strong model that interests investors. He has a strong, built club, which holds capitalistically, ”said Olivier Blanc, former director of communication for OL, at the club from 1987 to 2020.
The personality of Jean-Michel Aulas is a consensus in Lyon, a city with a strong local identity. Lawyer André Soulier reminded him a few days before the formalization of the sale: “It will end with an agreement that keeps Jean-Michel for a time, which his health alone will determine. And he threatened with his Lyonnais banter the impudent who would have had the idea to land the local figure: “I would open my mouth. The Lyonnais would agree with me. In Lyon, we do nothing without the Lyonnais. The Roman emperors would have broken their teeth if they had done the opposite. And the Church too. After the pax romana, Lyon prays for a pax americana.