Cantillon: It’s a funny old game for the FAI and its billionaire backers

Dermot Desmond: has a soft spot for football, which might help to explain his involvement. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Dermot Desmond: has a soft spot for football, which might help to explain his involvement. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

With its debt deal incorporating a reputed €12.5 million write-off, the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) appears to have pulled off the fiscal equivalent of a last-gasp hat-trick having been two-nil down heading into injury time.

The association, labouring under more than €55 million of debt associated with its half share of the Aviva stadium, has reportedly agreed a refinancing to pay off Danske Bank, apparently funded by US investment giant KKR and Dermot Desmond’s (right) QED Equity .

The repayments on its half share – the other half is owned by the IRFU – were sucking the life out of the FAI. After several years and more than €10 million of interest-only repayments, last year it began capital repayments, but struggled to meet the bills.

Following the new deal , the FAI’s debt reportedly is €43 million. At the beginning of the year, its debts were €59 million. Factoring in its reported €12.5 million write-off, this suggests capital repayments for 2013 were €3 million to €4 million. For an organisation that was struggling to break even when on interest only – after paying club grants of €1.3 million – that level of annual repayment was clearly unsustainable.

So what of the FAI’s apparent saviours?

The organisation is used to dealing with billionaires. Denis O’Brien has been paying half the senior team’s management salaries for more than five years. Desmond, a close friend of O’Brien, has a soft spot for football, which might help to explain his involvement. He has almost single-handledly kept Glasgow Celtic, where he is majority shareholder, afloat in recent years by imparting tough love and fiscal discipline. But is the US giant KKR, whose billionaire founders inspired the movie Barbarians at the Gate, really involved with the FAI just for the love of the game of “soccer”? The FAI won’t reveal the security it has provided to its new funders, but whatever it is, it isn’t directly secured on the Aviva, which is owned by a separate joint venture with the IRFU. Let’s hope that long-term, the FAI hasn’t scored an own goal by jumping into bed with arch capitalists KKR.

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