Tom Brady Breaks Into English Football, Buying Birmingham City Stake

Tom Brady is making his first foray into the world of British football, investing in Championship club Birmingham City as a minority owner.

(Bloomberg) — Tom Brady is making his first foray into the world of British football, investing in Championship club Birmingham City as a minority owner.

Brady is investing alongside his friend, hedge fund manager Tom Wagner, who purchased a 45% stake in the club in July. Brady, who also invests with Wagner in pickleball, will be involved in the team as chairman of the advisory board. 

The five-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback will work with the board on marketing efforts and partnership opportunities, as well as helping with health, wellness and recovery programs.

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“As a competitor my entire life, I know how important a city’s support can be to its team, and the passion the Blues fans have is legendary,” Brady said in an emailed statement. “I just can’t wait to experience it firsthand.”

Founded in 1875, Birmingham City FC plays in the second tier of English football, where the majority of clubs spend more on player wages than they make in revenue, according to research from Deloitte. 

Speaking on Bloomberg TV, Wagner said that Birmingham City had been under-invested in for some time, and that while it was difficult to compete with sovereign-backed teams “at the highest level of the top tier,” there were other opportunities. 

Wagner also mentioned his respect for Steven Knight, the creator of the Peaky Blinders series about a gang based in Birmingham, when asked whether he would be interested in creating a docu-series about Birmingham City.

The new ownership will raise the profile of the club, which had been controlled by Chinese investor Paul Suen since 2016 and has struggled financially since being relegated from the Premier League in 2011. Actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney bought the Welsh team Wrexham AFC in 2021, leaning on their following and a documentary series about the club to revive its popularity and ticket sales. The club was promoted from the fifth tier in April.

Former Manchester City executive Garry Cook will be Birmingham City’s new CEO, and former England coach Hope Powell will be the women’s team’s technical director.

“Tom Brady joining the Birmingham City team is a statement of intent. We are setting the bar at world class,” Wagner said in a statement. “Success does not come overnight. It takes time. But when you have great leaders in place everything becomes possible.”

Broadcast revenue in the Premier League is at least £100 million ($127 million) a year, depending on performance, compared to less than £10 million outside the top tier. Teams in the Championship vie for a promotion to the top tier, with three teams moving up each year.

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Wagner, whose $10 billion hedge fund Knighthead Capital Management purchased its stake through a special vehicle, specializes in distressed debt investing. His plan to turn the club around includes improving its St. Andrew’s stadium, bringing in new sponsors and increasing fan engagement to drive sales. The UK’s fair play rules mean that teams with more cash from ticket sales and TV rights can spend more for players.

Wagner has said that his attraction to Birmingham stems from its youthful and diverse population. And because it sits in the middle of the country, Wagner expects it to be a “hub” of the country’s new high-speed rail system, so about an hour away from 80% of the English population, he told Bloomberg Radio last month.

The club, which finished its season in the second-tier Championship in 17th place, reported a pretax loss of £24.8 million for the year ended June 2022. The club said in July that there had been noticeable progress in the improvement works on the stadium, and that repair work on two of the stands would be finished by mid-September.

Birmingham City’s youth academy produced one of the most valuable stars of current European football in Jude Bellingham, who joined Birmingham’s youth team before leaving for Borussia Dortmund in July 2020 for around €25 million. This summer he moved on to Real Madrid in a deal worth a reported £88 million, with 5% of that fee reportedly going back to Birmingham City.

Wagner and Brady got to know each other through their sons, who went to school together on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Last year, the duo joined former world No. 1 tennis player Kim Clijsters to purchase a team for the 2023 Major League Pickleball season.

While US investors own several Premier League teams — Manchester United, Chelsea FC, Arsenal, Liverpool and AFC Bournemouth among them — there’s a growing interest in bolstering clubs further down the pyramid. American investors recently bought into Swansea City and into Ipswich Town, both in the second tier.

Separate from his soccer interests, Brady, who announced his retirement from the National Football League in February, is slated to become a partner in the Las Vegas Raiders, according to ESPN. He also purchased a stake in the Las Vegas Aces, a WNBA team, in March.

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(Updated with context from Bloomberg TV interview.)

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