Dragan Solak, a Serbian-born businessman who founded the United Group of TV and telecoms companies, is funding a takeover of English football club Southampton, it was confirmed to BIRN.
Southampton players are celebrating goal against Leicester city. Photo: Youtube/Printscreen
Dragan Solak, the founder of United Group, a leading media group in the Balkans and South-East Europe, has invested around 120 million euros in buying a controlling stake in the English Premier League club Southampton FC, it was confirmed to BIRN by sources at United Group.
Solak is involved in the Southampton takeover with former Brentford FC co-director of football Rasmus Ankersen and Henrik Kraft, a London-based investor, Sky News reported.
Until now, the English club’s majority owner was Gao Jisheng, a Chinese businessman who bought an 80 per cent stake in Southampton in 2017.
Solak made his fortune with United Group which since 2000 has gone from a small cable operator to a regional leader in the TV, broadband and mobile phone business in the Balkans and South-East Europe. The group says it serves more than 40 million people in eight countries generating more than two billion euros annually.
United Media has its stronghold in Serbia where it owns many Serbian media outlets that have been set up over the past decade, including N1 and Nova TV, media outlets that have taken a critical stance towards the Serbian government and President Aleksandar Vucic.
Solak’s name was not well-known to the Serbian public until pro-government media and senior officials, including President Vucic and Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, started describing him in recent years as an ally of Dragan Djilas, Belgrade’s former mayor who is now an opposition leader.
Revelations about official malpractices or alleged corruption that have been aired by outlets owned by United Media have been repeatedly dismissed by the Serbian authorities as part of efforts by Solak and Djilas to oust Vucic and his government.
United Group, which is now owned by investment firm BC Partners, holds the right to show English Premier League matches in Serbia and other territories in the Balkans, but only until the summer of 2022. From then on, TV Arena Sport, owned by Telekom Srbija, a company majority-owned by the Serbian state, hold the rights.
Telekom Srbija paid around 600 million euros for broadcast rights to six English Premier League seasons, according to media – a figure that is several times higher than was paid for the rights previously.
Telekom Srbija, which has been involved in a politically-charged tussle with United Group for supremacy over the Serbian media market for several years, has declined to disclose the exact amount it paid for the Premier League rights.
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