Council assessing Pride Park purchase to aid Derby County takeover

Derby City Council has said it is working on a deal to acquire Pride Park in an effort to ensure Championship football club Derby County exits administration.

Derby has been in administration since September, with the 21-point deduction being levelled against the club for breaching English Football League (EFL) financial fair play (FFP) rules ultimately leading to its relegation to League One this season.

Long-running efforts to secure a new owner for the club have seen American businessman Chris Kirchner installed as the preferred bidder, but his period of exclusivity to conclude a deal expires tomorrow (Saturday).

In an update on the matter, the EFL yesterday said that it had been advised that a deal to take Derby out of administration and under the ownership of Kirchner was nearing completion. The EFL said evidence of source and sufficiency of funding has been provided, but added that there still remain a “number of outstanding challenges” to be resolved.

The EFL noted: “However, a significant issue remains in respect of the status of the stadium and Mr Kirchner continues in dialogue with the relevant parties as to how this can be resolved. It is clear that the complexity associated with this aspect of the transaction is the biggest hurdle to overcome.”

Pride Park is owned by Derby County’s former owner Mel Morris, who placed the club into administration in September, and acquired the stadium from the club for £80m (€93.4m/$98.6m) through another company he owns.

Derby purchased Pride Park in an effort to comply with FFP regulations, but the deal proved controversial with some rival clubs feeling the move took advantage of the rules. Information of the deal was disclosed in the club’s accounts for the 2017-18 financial year, when Derby posted a profit of £14.6m to comply with FFP regulations.

Kirchner’s takeover offer does not include acquiring Pride Park, and reports have emerged that a ground sharing deal with the likes of fellow Championship club Stoke City or Premier League team Leicester City could be explored as a means of ensuring Derby secures a new owner.

However, Derby City Council leader, Chris Poulter, told BBC Radio Derby today: “We would work in partnership with them to facilitate the revival of the club. Officers are working on that – finance officers, property officers, business officers, legal teams are in that process. We will see what comes out of it.”

Poulter stressed that the Council had initially sought to “support” a new owner for Derby who wanted to rescue the club and acquire Pride Park. He added: “That’s not the case at the moment because the administrators have appointed Kirchner and Garry Cook.

“They’ve made it perfectly clear that they don’t want to deal with Mel Morris on the ground. Their preferred option is for the council to take ownership of the ground. We are seriously considering the whys, the wherefores, the benefits and risks of the council of becoming involved in the stadium.”

Kirchner has admitted that his efforts to take Derby out of administration ultimately come down to the stadium situation. He told the club’s RamsTV platform yesterday: “It is just the way the entities under the previous owner were tied together. The stadium and the rights to that stadium are intertwined for a lot of those. Without getting too detailed or too complex, and obviously to have a club and to have a deal officially approved by the EFL you have to have a lease or own a ground.

“You have to have somewhere to play and so for all those reasons, it’s tied in. Because it is not part of the administration it has added a layer of complexity in trying to get this deal done because of the different parties that have to make decisions on it.”

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