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Everton, 777 and the Business of Premier League Soccer

The acquisitions came so rapidly that it was difficult to keep up. An agreement was made to purchase the oldest soccer team in Italy. An investment was made in one of Brazil’s most popular teams. Stakes were acquired in well-known clubs in Belgium, France, Germany, and Australia. Each new deal was proudly announced by 777 Partners, an investment company based in Miami that was rapidly acquiring these assets.

Then, in September, the investment group revealed its biggest deal yet: an agreement to acquire a controlling stake in Everton F.C., one of the founding members of the Premier League and one of England’s oldest soccer clubs.

Suddenly, everyone in the soccer world was familiar with 777 Partners. However, beyond its name, there was little known about the company. They claimed to have $10 billion in assets, but verifying this claim was difficult due to their private nature. Lawsuits against the company raised concerns, and a string of unpaid bills further raised doubts.

Now, in their bid for a place in the Premier League, 777 Partners faces a forensic review of its holdings, finances, and its brash American co-owner, Josh Wander, who stated in a recent interview that he was more serious about investing in soccer than anyone in history.

This proposed deal for control of Everton is far from guaranteed. The Premier League, England’s Football Association, and the Financial Conduct Authority, an independent British government regulator, must all approve the deal, a process that is likely to take months.

The outcome of this review could have implications not only for the future of Everton, a struggling club, but also for the other financially troubled teams within the 777 network.

This review is equally important for the Premier League, which is trying to demonstrate its ability to oversee clubs’ finances amid discussions of government regulation. It also has significance for the global soccer economy, which relies on the assumption that teams will be able to meet their financial obligations.

Those involved in the assessment of 777 Partners, including soccer and public agencies, have not provided any information on the review or a timeline for its completion.

Mr. Wander, the public face of the company, declined multiple requests for an interview. However, he did publish a letter to fans on Everton’s website, acknowledging fans’ concerns about media reports on the company’s businesses. He claimed that these reports were misleading.

According to a statement from 777, they are not asset strippers or speculative investors, but rather, they build and hold businesses, intending to keep the football clubs in their portfolio for the long term. Mr. Wander also stated in his letter to fans that he would provide resources to the other teams in the group, including player recruitment, data analytics, and commercial development.

Despite these claims, over a dozen sources, including current and former employees, club officials, and others who have done business with 777, have raised questions about the company’s financing. They have also revealed details about unmet obligations and unpaid bills, leading them to question whether the company has the resources to manage a network of clubs with significant debts and obligations.

If the takeover of Everton is successful, it would bring the number of clubs in 777’s portfolio to eight. The existing teams in their portfolio, including Genoa in Italy, Hertha Berlin in Germany, and Vasco da Gama in Brazil, were all in financial crisis before their acquisition by 777.

When 777 Partners was founded in 2015 by Josh Wander and Steve Pasko, they would not have been considered typical sports team investors. At the time, the company primarily invested in structured settlements, an industry that involves purchasing long-term annuities for immediate cash. However, they quickly expanded into other sectors, including low-cost airlines and litigation financing.

According to Gary Chodes, a former board member of a 777 subsidiary, the company had few profitable businesses. So when they began acquiring soccer teams and assuming their debts through loans and upfront payments, it raised questions about how they generated the required funds.

Mr. Wander has claimed in interviews that 777 manages $10 billion in assets and has 60 subsidiaries across various industries. However, due to the private nature of the business and the tight control of its financial structure by Mr. Wander and Mr. Pasko, many of these claims are difficult to verify.

Current and former employees have revealed that the company relies on loans to operate many of its businesses. One of the major lenders to 777 is A-Cap, a private company in the insurance and investment business.

While 777 executives speak of their ambition and the scale of their operations, there have been reported instances of missed payments and financial difficulties. For example, the British Basketball League, in which 777 owns a 45 percent share, warned the league of bankruptcy unless they received a late payment of around $1 million. Similar financial issues have surfaced with Standard Liège, a club owned by 777 in Belgium, and Vasco da Gama in Brazil.

777 has stated that they have delivered the required funds to Vasco da Gama and that they are ahead of schedule and exceeding their original commitments to the British Basketball League. However, some view these financial issues as evidence that 777 is struggling to manage their finances effectively.

Outside of the realm of soccer, Mr. Wander, known for taking risks, has had a divisive reputation. Former associates recall instances where he would request loans with promises of quick profits, although some have questioned the source of funds used to buy sports teams.

While the outcome of 777’s review and bid for Everton remains uncertain, it has shed light on the company’s financial stability and ability to manage a network of clubs.