After almost two years of chaos and crisis caused by the scandalous activities of the non-transparent companies Key Investments and E Side Property, the financial and ownership situation around the celebrated Czech football club Slavia Prague has settled and, above all, become clearer.
The club is now owned by the millionaire former Civic Democrat (ODS) transport minister Aleš Řebíček. And E Side Property, the company controlling Slavia’s home Eden stadium, is in the hands of the Natland financial group. On balance, Řebíček looks to have got the much riskier deal, with Natland appearing to have backed what amounts to a sure-fire winner.
Kicking off with Řebíček first, the basic game plan for him must be to see Slavia at least in the top half of the table by the end of the season — and that is looking like a fairly demanding task, given the club’s current form and widespread fan antipathy to new manager František Straka.
If Slavia can string some results on the field together, they could line up some attractive sponsorship deals and at least attack that lucrative revenue source. Otherwise, Řebíček — who has already poured in more than Kč 150 million in getting control of the club — will have to dig deeper into his pockets to keep it going. The question is how long he will be willing to keep up such charitable behavior.
The investment in the Czech club — which is neither playing in the Champions League nor even in the lower-profile Europa League and doesn’t look likely to be playing in either competition next year either — looks extremely risky.
The owners of across city rivals Sparta, which started out with a club in much better shape than Slavia, have sunk more than a billion crowns in the team in recent years and not seen a single crown back. Sparta is also in the more favorable situation that the owner of the club and stadium are the same.
Slavia owner Řebíček clearly had his eyes on the stadium as well, but that now appears to be a distant prospect.
Řebíček clearly had his eyes on the stadium as well, but that now appears to be a distant prospect. In recent weeks he was in talks with London-based parent company E Side Property to acquire the grounds, which are the most modern in the Czech top Gambrinus League.
According to Czech Position’s information, talks took place with the biggest creditor of the stadium’s owner, Czech bank Česká spořitelna, but the lender preferred the alternative solutions being offered by the Natland group.
In spite of this clear choice, Czech tabloids got into a bit of a muddle over the negotiations and at one stage already declared Řebíček the owner of the stadium as well as the club. They can be forgiven the mistake because Natland previously cleared the way for Řebíček to take over the club. The Eden stadium, however, is a different ball game; those who think that Natland is again acting as the front man for Řebíček are making a serious mistake.
Natland has, according to Czech Position’s sources, definitively ruled out a scenario under which it would immediately sell the Eden venue on to Řebíček, though they could have second thoughts. In May, Natland’s spokesman told Czech Position the group had no interest whatsoever in the stadium. With such slick movement from Natland it would be wrong to believe that the red card has been shown to this idea for good.
Řebíček had, apparently, done everything in his powers to obtain ownership of both Slavia and Eden. There’s a Czech saying that proclaims that only a fool would boast that he was prepared to pay any price for something. So far, Řebíček, may not have said as much, but he had certainly given that impression. And whatever else is said about Natland, they do not appear to be idiots.
Ambitious game plan
Natland clearly has designs to continue with some fairly ambitious plans for the Eden grounds, which were already laid out by previous owner Vladimír Kroužecký, the shareholder in the company Key Oak Limited, which was the parent company of E Side Property. The plans even counted at one stage on preparing to float the stadium on the London Stock Exchange. That information was confirmed to Czech Position by Natland’s joint owner, Tomáš Raška.
Ownership will be transferred to a new entity, apparently to a fund that will come under the regulatory scrutiny of the Czech National Bank.
When asked why controversial businessman Kroužecký was still on board with a 20 percent share in E Side Property, Raška said the financier had good ideas about how the stadium and business connected with it, even though he was not in the past able to fulfill them. In this connection, former Czech football international Pavel Kuka will probably be leaving his post as director of E Side Property.
The stadium’s new owners are also clear on the fact that E Side Property will no longer remain the Slavia grounds’ owner, as this will be transferred to a new entity, apparently to a fund that will come under the regulatory scrutiny of the Czech National Bank (ČNB).
Raška also does not rule out the possibility of the two clubs using the stadium for home games, Slavia Prague and Bohemian 1905, being able to take a stake in that fund. Connected stadium services such as catering, marketing, tickets will be spun off to another company under the watchful supervision of Natland managers, according to Raška.
While Natland is keeping quiet about the costs of taking ownership of the stadium, it does not appear to be a bad buy. Eden’s earnings before tax, deductions and amortization, according to Czech Position’s information, totals around Kč 150 million a year. If some of the smart cash raising ideas come through then Natland should be able to recoup its investment costs within a few years.