Peter Lee: “Eisner and Tornante Right Next Step”

I’m one of the Presidents, Peter Lee, currently living in Colorado in the USA. My family history can be traced back 6 generations to West Street in Old Portsmouth about 50 yards from the Still and West. My great grandparents used to board Pompey players at their house in Fratton in the club’s early days, my grandmother was at the 1929 cup final, so I have a bit of Pompey history in my blood.

I was brought up, ‘up north,’ as they say in Stockport (this will become relevant later) and have been a member of the Northern Blues since its initial meeting organized by Derek Kilburn in a pub in Manchester in 1989. Despite being based in the USA these days, I try to make it back for 15 to 20 games a season.

Below are my views on the bid and items related to it:

I’m going to start with the disclosure that I have met Michael in person a couple of months back, along with Andy Redman who is the President & COO of Tornante. Andy’s knowledge of English and European football was impressive and, sadly I have to admit, probably greater than mine.

Both Andy and Michael have obviously invested a lot of time looking into our club and city and they had a lot of thoughts around things like improving the academy, and immediate things that need doing around Fratton Park.

While I will leave the specifics of those things for Michael to talk about later in the week, I think it is worth us taking a second to dwell upon some facts about Michael’s background:

1 – Business Track Record
Took the ABC TV network from third place to the top rated network
Turned Paramount Pictures into the number one studio in box office and profitability with movies like “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Saturday Night Fever,” “Grease,” etc.

Took over a struggling Walt Disney company and turned it into the global giant it is today, increasing revenue from $1.5B to $30.8B–a staggering 2000% increase!
It’s pretty hard to find anyone else with that track record in business anywhere else in the world, Bill Gates would be a good comparison.

Considering this, I think it’s easy to say we are getting one of the very top tier business people in the world, which can only be good for Portsmouth Football Club.

2 – Philanthropy / Charitable giving –

The Eisner foundation gives about $7M annually to charities. (That’s more per year than we raised to buy the club!)

That high commitment level to giving is a pretty decent thing for any person to do, and there are certainly synergies that Pompey in the Community should benefit from should the takeover go through.

In fact, despite our designation as a community club, our community arm will probably do better under the proposed ownership than it does under the current model – food for thought.

3 – How the football world views Michael Eisner

A leading figure in the football world recently told me that when seeking to find a new owner for a championship club, he received expressions of interest from around 50 different parties. He said not one of them even came close to Michael Eisner in terms of ‘business credibility.’

I’ve heard similar views about the integrity of Michael Eisner from other people in football; many in the football world can’t believe how lucky we are to have this interest from Tornante.

Okay, enough about Michael Eisner, now let’s talk about fan ownership.

Views on fan ownership differ widely by club. While most people in Portsmouth would say it’s been a good thing (which it has been to this point), if you were to ask the same question at Stockport, they would rate fan ownership somewhere similar to how our fans rate the Chanrai ownership…a bad thing.

Does this mean that the Stockport Trust were bad people? Not at all, they simply ran out of money, which precipitated their fall out of the football league to a level currently similar to Gosport Borough.

At the end of the day, the football league is driven by money: those that have it prosper, those that don’t flounder in divisions 3 and 4.

While we’re talking about money, perhaps it’s now a good time to talk about our stadium.

We all know and love Fratton Park, but let’s be honest, it’s getting on in age, and as custodians of the club, safety of everyone who walks through the turnstyle should be our first priority.

Over the past year, the club has engaged Richard Gee, one of the foremost stadium experts in the country. His report on the health and safety of the North, South and Milton stands is, quite simply, shocking.

Both the PST board and the PAB board have heard from Richard first hand, let’s be clear, this isn’t project ‘fear,’ it’s project ‘let’s do the right thing and ensure the safety of our supporters.’

There seems to be agreement that fixing up the current H&S issues will cost around 5M. Once the remaining Tesco funds are gone, we will be left with a shortfall of 4.1M.

Seems like it’s time to talk about fundraising.

Four years ago, fans old and young, rich and poor, pulled together in an incredible effort to raise the money to save the club. Every fan involved can forever feel equally proud of their effort in this.

Since then, we have been propped up by both the Tesco money and 3 million in football fortune income…money we can’t rely on going forward.

The big question now is: how many more times can you go to the well? Also, will people be as keen to pay for H&S work as they were to save the club?

Perhaps an even more important question to ask is, should the vote be NO, how many of the “YES voters” would be prepared to reach their hands into their pockets to pay for H&S work? I am guessing that it will be close to zero. I know I wouldn’t be, and in good faith I couldn’t ask my friends or family to put money in moving forward either, knowing that all we are doing is kicking the can down the road for a period of time.

In that case, the task would then be to raise 100 percent of the money from 51 percent of the fanbase (assuming a 51% NO vote). How many PST members will be prepared to put at least 2k in for repairs to Fratton Park? (NOTE: we are talking repairs only here, rebuilding stands might as well be on another planet given where we are right now).

In my opinion, the first serious offer for the club would always seriously test, if not break our current model for fundraising. Let’s talk about that offer some more.

By nature bid documents are cold, so I wasn’t too surprised by the nature of it as were some others with perhaps less experience in this area.

Overall, I personally think it’s a good bid for the club. Surely we want Tornante to put the maximum spend into the club to move it forward and not into our pockets to give us profit.

I have heard talk that there should be a higher payment so the PST can keep a fighting fund for the future. Personally, I’d rather the H&S issues got fixed sooner. And I think the HNW’s would have got slaughtered if we had profited from the deal.

That’s not to say there aren’t one or two areas in the bid that would benefit from tightening up, but I think when Tornante gets to explain the reasoning behind some of their positions on Thursday most people will see where they are coming from.

For example, the 15-mile issue, which has been a bone of contention for many, is intended to give people re-assurance we won’t get Milton Keyne’d, not as a way to move us to a SO postcode.

Like many I’ll be interested to hear more on Thursday night, especially about their ambitions for the club.

Talking ambitions, like many I grew up watching Pompey play in 80’s and have always thought of us as a top 2 division team, not a lower league team. Our ambition moving forward should be to compete in the Championship at least. If we can’t provide the finances necessary to do that, then are we the right owners for the club moving forward?

I’ll start my conclusion by reverting back to something a leading football figure said: ‘The next prospective buyer through for Portsmouth would likely be a no-name Russian or Chinese investor, not someone even close in caliber to Michael Eisner.’

Make no mistake, the current model has an expiry date, we will run out of money at some point sending us looking for a major investor. You can’t cheat gravity forever!

The choice we have right now ISN’T:
YES to Michael Eisner or NO to stay with Fan ownership

The real choice IS:
YES to Michael Eisner or NO for a less reputable owner down the line
(Unless of course one of you reading this is related to Bill Gates).

I’ll finish by reflecting on the fantastic achievement, we fans have had over the past 4 years. That includes everyone from shareholders, to people who have turned up to support the team on a windy Tuesday night in Morecambe, to those sat at home, who hurt whenever we lost on a Saturday afternoon.

We have the dream ending to our ownership with promotion (and hopefully a L2 title on Saturday evening!). Let’s not turn it into a nightmare, by holding onto something we can’t afford in the long run.

In my opinion, Michael Eisner and Tornante are the right next step for this great club.

PUP – Peter

P.S – I don’t believe there is a credible plan B for the club right now

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