Between the Devil You Know and the Deep Blue Sea
02 October, 2023
In light of the somewhat chaotic developments in the takeover saga in recent weeks, the question on Evertonian minds now is just who are 777 Partners and are they both capable and worthy of running one of England’s most storied and successful football clubs?
Come December, it’s possible that Everton FC will be under new ownership. What will be almost eight years after Farhad Moshiri purchased his first major stake in the club, the Blues could join the stable of clubs either under the control of or subject to partial investment from 777 Partners, a private equity firm based in Florida that has been making a concerted push into the sphere of global football, one that has accelerated over the past couple of years.
It’s a saga that has been unfolding off the pitch for the better part of a year against the backdrop of a second struggle by the club to avoid potentially catastrophic relegation to the Championship and an almost frenzied regime of austerity, cost-cutting and pruning of the playing squad — all while the glittering edifice that will serve as Everton’s new home, perhaps as soon as next August, has been rising out of the docks in Vauxhall to take its place among the Graces on Liverpool’s iconic skyline.
Moshiri’s reign at Everton was already struggling under the weight of years of mis-directed largesse in the transfer market, a string of poor recruitment decisions and failed managerial appointments when Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine threw the Blues into further disarray. With Alisher Usmanov, Moshiri’s long-time business associate, commercial partner and reported benefactor, quickly joining the ranks of oligarchs sanctioned by the United States, United Kingdom and others, the club were forced to cut ties with their chief sponsor, USM Holdings.
Not only did the conglomerate already sponsor Everton’s training ground, match days at Goodison Park and the Women’s team, they had bought exclusivity to the naming rights of the new stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock which was expected to provide a nine-figure cash injection to help cover some of the costs of building the 52,888-seater ground. Everton have picked up small sponsorship deals in the interim but none of those bigger arrangements with USM have been replaced and, as of yet, there is no big-name partner waiting in the wings to put their name on Everton Stadium.
That shortfall in commercial revenue exacerbated the squeeze put on Everton’s transfer business by the Premier League who were preparing in 2021 to charge them with violating their profitability and sustainability rules. An outlay of tens of millions of pounds to support Carlo Ancelotti’s desire to overhaul the Toffees’ ill-equipped midfield in the summer of 2020 was followed by a net spend of just £1.7m by Marcel Brands and Rafael Benitez the following year. The summer after that, Richarlison was sold for north of £50m to appease the League, Anthony Gordon (£45m) and Moise Kean (£28m) would follow before the end of the 2022-23 campaign, with another £47m recouped in transfer fees in the transfer window just gone.
In between, of course, having had the rug of his main source of sponsorship revenue — plus, if The Guardian are to believed, a ready source of capital to borrow — pulled from beneath his feet by the sanctioning of Usmanov, Moshiri was plotting a means of cutting his losses at Everton by initiating talks with potential buyers and investors late last year.
It emerged during the owner’s recorded interview with then Fan Advisory Board chair, Jazz Bal, that Moshiri had been in positive talks with an investment outfit that would shortly thereafter be revealed as MSP Sports Capital, owned by US-Iranian billionaire Jahm Najafi and renowned sport agent Jeff Moorad.
Meanwhile, separate discussions were held with another American investment vehicle, 777 Partners but for weeks over the summer, it looked as though MSP were close to agreeing a £150m proposal to buy 25% of Moshiri’s holdings in Everton, with much of that injection of funds to go towards the next building phase at Bramley-Moore Dock.
A filing with the SEC in New York indicating that the funds had been raised by 13 total backers appeared to be the last step towards MSP finalising their investment and taking representation on the club’s Board with the addition of two directors but, as the timeline dragged without confirmation of the deal, it was eventually revealed that the New York-based firm had pulled out.
Some reports suggested that Everton’s biggest creditor, Rights & Media Funding, had objected to the valuation that the deal with MSP would have put on the club and into the breach stepped 777 who took retook centre stage and agreed a deal in principle last month to buy Moshiri out of his entire 94.1% stake. MSP would still provide the Everton Stadium Development company with a £100m loan but it would not be accompanied by any future option to convert it into equity.
In light of these somewhat chaotic developments, the question on Evertonian minds now, of course, is just who are 777 Partners and are they both capable and worthy of running one of England’s most storied and successful football clubs? Thanks to the investigative efforts of Josimar, a Norwegian digital football publication, and the Washington Post (WaPo) who, just this weekend, either corroborated or amplified many of Josimar’s most disconcerting findings, there is plenty to chew on when trying to answer that question.
777 Partners, based in Florida, were co-founded in 2015 by business partners Joshua Wander and Steven W Pasko. Wander, a native of Miami, had attended the University of Florida where, now rather infamously, he was charged with trafficking drugs after agents from the United States Drug Task Force tracked a package of roughly 31 grams of cocaine to his residence and also found him in possession of 20 grams of cannabis.
He was sentenced to 15 years’ probation for possession of drug paraphernalia after pleading no contest to the charges but successfully petitioned the courts to end his sentence early in 2014. By that point, he had already started his career in the lucrative cash-for-annuity business at Structured Asset Funding before he left to co-found SuttonPark Capital in 2008 with Pasko, a graduate of Rutgers College, recipient of an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and Wall Street investment banker, who served as Chief Executive Officer.
However, to quote Josimar, “Wander just cannot seem to keep his name out of the courts,” either through his personal actions or that of his companies. In what has been a developing theme of unpaid or belatedly settled debts, he was taken to court by the Bellagio in Las Vegas when he left the casino in 2011 having repaid just $5,000 of a £78,000 advance. A Nevada court ordered him to settle the rest of the debt which remained unpaid as late as 2018. In 2013, a Florida court ordered him to pay American Express Centurion Bank in Utah almost $250,000 in unpaid credit card bills, which he eventually did 11 months later. Four years ago, he was apparently arrested by Miami Beach Police for failing to register a vehicle.
In the meantime, Wander and Pasko had grown SuttonPark into arguably the biggest player in the secondary market of structured settlements in the US. The industry is highly lucrative — sources for Josimar describe SuttonPark, the firm that 777 Partners acquired from PennantPark, as the only company in their portfolio “which consistently makes large amounts of money” — but is widely regarded as predatory in nature. In many cases, the people selling their annuities at cut-price rates in order to raise immediate cash are in vulnerable positions.
As the WaPo article explains, SuttonPark didn’t sign clients to annuity deals themselves but purchased the contracts from “originators” like Bentzen, Liberty and Peachtree, a distinction that has allowed Wander, Pasko and 777 Partners to distance themselves from the disturbing cases of Lyndsy Noell and Tierra Douglas, the subjects of two lawsuits that 777, as the parent company, have been fighting in the US courts.
Noell, neé Goney, had been awarded a £1 million structured settlement as the result of a car accident when she was 13 years old involving a truck in which she was seriously injured, lost her sight in one eye and had to undergo a number of operations. Unfortunately, she developed an addiction to the opiates prescribed for pain during her recoveries from surgery and by a decade or so later was spending more money on heroin than her annuity payments could cover.
In 2015, after she had initially signed away more than $270,000 of her settlement in exchange for $74,000 in cash according to court filings, Liberty Settlement Funding, LLC, then a subsidiary of SuttonPark, contacted Noell offering her a deal for $180,000 cash in exchange for the remaining $793,000 of her annuity, a contract that court records show Lyndsy signed in February 2016 with the approval of a judge.
Within months, Noell was consumed by regret and, feeling as though she had been exploited, she hired a lawyer, Edward Stone, alleging that two representatives from Liberty had befriended her in the weeks before she signed the contract with them and had supplied her with drugs. In a letter she wrote to Stone that was included in a lawsuit filed by her parents, she claims that she didn’t realise she was signing away the rest of annuity and that she had felt “obligated to sign their papers.” Josimar claim to have seen court documents that allege that SuttonPark had engaged in a “pattern of racketeering activities,” including “kidnapping, bribery, extortion and dealing in a controlled substance.”
In response, the company branded the allegations from the Goney family “outlandish” and 777 Partners’ attorney, Joseph Lipchitz insisted that no court has found Noell incapable of making her own decisions and that contracts she signed were “approved by a judge who had to determine that the settlement is in the best interests of the beneficiary.” A judge dismissed the suit by Lyndsy’s parents on the grounds that they didn’t have the standing to sue but when Noell threatened to file her own lawsuit, the company agreed to an out-of-court settlement that gave back part of her annuity in exchange for what her lawyer said was her signing a non-disclosure agreement.
Tierra Douglas’s complaint against Liberty and 777 Partners is ongoing. In it, she claims that she did not have “the legal capacity to consent” to the cash-advance deal she signed in 2017 after a representative from Liberty had offered her $500,000 in exchange for the $2.2 million annuity she had been awarded following a car accident in which her father was killed three years earlier.
Douglas, a diagnosed sufferer of schizophrenia and a disorder that causes delusions, had readily agreed and, in a hearing in St Louis court, had confirmed to a judge that she was aware that by agreeing to Liberty’s offer, she would be giving up a “substantial” amount of the money she was due to receive in regular payments over a 30-year period. Tierra’s lawsuit claims that her mental illness was severe enough that she now lives in a care facility and her affairs are managed under conservatorship.
777 declined to comment on pending litigation further than a statement from spokesman Jeff Heckelman saying that the company hasn’t violated any laws: “They’ve never been convicted of anything. Anyone can make file allegations. That doesn’t make it true.” Liberty’s president, Marc Hermes, branded the lawsuits “frivolous” and a result of “buyer’s remorse.”
However, 777 did contact Josimar to strongly refute what they described as an article that “is completely misleading and contradicts the basic guidelines of journalistic integrity … In relation to the allegations made against Sutton Park, the business is a wholesale aggregator of structured deals, not the originator of the funding mentioned in the article. Josh Wander, Steve Pasko and 777 Partners have no involvement in the origination of these contracts, but they deeply sympathise with the plaintiffs’ plight.” 777’s rebuttal did not stop Albert Samaha of the Washington Post from publishing many of the same allegations.
As they have gradually moved away from the structured settlements industry, 777 Partners’ rapid expansion into global football — more on that shortly — was mirrored by the speed of the growth of their financial services offerings which, as the WaPo explains, operated on a similar model as their annuities business — “supplying the cash advances that smaller companies offered clients in exchange for future income streams. 777 could then refinance those contracts for access to more capital.” They have since branched out into the aviation industry as well which has thrown up more court battles.
One lawsuit filed earlier this year concerns their involvement with Canadian budget airline Flair, of which 777 acquired 25% four years ago and accuses them of “fraud and breach of contract”, alleging that they were buying Boeing aircraft and leasing them to their own companies at a premium of £10 million each through its subsidiary 777 Lessors.
Their tentacles have kept them embroiled in controversy. Through Rosebud Lending, which listed 777’s Miami office as its address, Wander and Pasko’s outfit were accused in 2019 of exploiting South Dakota’s Rosebud Sioux tribe with payday loans carrying interest rates as high as 600% to almost 900% interest. According to Josimar, a lawsuit filed by the Vida Longevity Fund last year alleges that, 777, SuttonPark and subsidiary Signal Funding defaulted on a $60 million loan taken out almost 18 months prior and in March this year, 777 received a court summons from American Express over an unpaid credit card bill of 324,002 dollars.
Money is the root of all evil, as the axiom goes, and it’s no secret that the lust for it often goes hand-in-hand with some either underhand, dubious or exploitative practices. Josh Wander, together with his mentor Steve Pasko, clearly saw an opportunity in the cash-for-annuities business and founded their existing empire on being very good at gaming that system but left themselves open to the moral judgement that follows.
While the focus of their business may be reprehensible on the face of it to many, to date, as their legal counsel attests, they don’t appear to have done anything criminal and none of the allegations against 777 Partners or their subsidiaries have resulted in conviction. Wander himself may not be the kind of character you’d want your daughter bringing home to meet the folks — he has the air of a money-grubbing grifter who lives large in Miami but often beyond his means, gambling to excess and driving expensive cars — but then Everton’s current ownership is linked very heavily to an oligarch complicit in the vast exploitation of Russian resources after the collapse of the Soviet Union and who served six years in prison in the 1980s on charges of fraud and embezzlement, although the conviction was later overturned. And 777’s conduct, either directly or indirectly through subsidiaries and contractors, pale when compared with the actions of the Saudi regime from where Newcastle United’s ownership derive its staggering wealth.
It might not sit well with Everton fans but there is no question that elite football in England has been wrenched away from its working-class roots over the past three decades and, in terms of power and influence, increasingly rests in the hands of some highly distasteful parties. It’s a reality that football fans have had to either accept or turn away from the game they love. (What would Sir John Moores make of it all? you wonder.)
Evertonians, who did as much with Farhad Moshiri’s ties to Alisher Usmanov and the persistent speculation that the Uzbek-born tycoon is the one who has been pulling the strings all along, may have to make peace with Messers Wander and Pasko’s past — see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, as the old proverb goes — but they will be much more concerned when it comes to the viability of 777 Partners’ bid to buy the club and its recent record regarding debts and payments promised to their various creditors.
Where the structure of MSP Sports Capital’s proposed investment in Everton had been clear cut, 777 Partners’ agreement with Moshiri is disconcertingly opaque. Indeed, none of the specifics of the deal have yet been made public apart from references by Paul Joyce in The Times and Chris Bascombe and Tom Morgan in The Telegraph to it being “an extraordinary performance-related clause … worth £500 million” and that the Monaco-based businessman “has agreed to staged payments over several years in order to help the club’s financial position”.
If true, the arrangement likely suits both parties — Moshiri gets to hedge the danger Everton might be relegated against the uplift in the club’s value from the completion of Bramley-Moore Dock and any surprise upturn on the pitch that might propel the club back into the top half of the Premier League and contention for Europe in the next few seasons; 777 get the option of paying less if the value of the asset they’re buying depreciates significantly in the event the Blues do lose their Premier League status but also buy the time to raise the necessary capital to complete a full takeover.
That last point could be key given that no one who has taken a long look at 777 Partners can deduce where they’re going to come up with the half-billion pounds needed to buy Moshiri out in the first place let alone a further half a billion to pay off Everton’s debt and fund the remainder of the construction of the stadium.
777’s rapid expansion into the arena of world football will be well-known by now to Evertonians who have been following the takeover saga in recent months. They are the latest in a line of American owners eyeing opportunities outside the comparatively small (in terms of sheer numbers of professional “franchises”) and massively expensive market of the United States, with its closed leagues and the slow-burning appeal of Major League Soccer. Specifically, in the words of the firm’s lawyer, Joseph Lipchitz, they have sought “historic clubs which can be classified as distressed assets,” a description that fits Everton FC to a tee, of course.
The purchase of a minority stake in La Liga club Sevilla in 2018 was their toe in the water but over the past couple of years, 777 have accelerated their push into football club investment and ownership. In 2021, they bought 99% of Genoa, the oldest club in Italy, for $175 million. The following year, they became majority owners of Brazilian club Vasco da Gama with a 70% stake for $138m, Belgian club Standard Liège, French third-division club Red Star, and German club Hertha Berlin. They also bought a minority stake in the Australian club Melbourne Victory and have plans to increase their holdings in that club to 75% in the near future.
Wander has been made the face of these investments and was recently quoted in the Financial Times as asking, “Is there anyone in the world that’s been more serious about buying football clubs in history than Josh Wander?” While the extent of his knowledge of football isn’t clear, he was recently appointed to the Board of the European Club Association in Berlin. Meanwhile, his firm at least appears to be going about things in the right way in terms of structuring a portfolio of clubs across three continents in fairly short order. Don Dransfield, formerly the Chief Strategy Officer at City Football Group, was appointed Chief Executive Officer of a dedicated 777 Football Group division in May last year. He has met with supporter representative groups as well as ToffeeWeb contributor and finance expert Paul The Esk in recent days and joined Wander and Pasko in the Directors Box at Goodison Park for the home game against Luton this past weekend.
Additionally — and equally as encouraging from the point of view or structure and intent — Johannes Spors, previously director of football at Vitesse Arnhem, and General Manager at Genoa and who was seriously considered for a senior role by Tottenham earlier this year, has been appointed Sporting Director for the 777 Football Group, reporting to Dransfield.
In each case, 777’s intent, as Wander told French newspaper L’Equipe, is to invest in the club’s long-term success rather than to try and turn a quick profit. “What is important in our eyes is not to build a club which generates profit just for the sake of profit,” he said. “We want clubs that are capable of living and developing over a number of decades.”
Certainly, quick, profitable exits from the clubs they have bought into thus far aren’t likely. All of them face challenges to varying degrees on and off the pitch. In 2021-22, Hertha Berlin lost around €80 million, Genoa lost €60 million, and Standard Liège more than €20 million. Vasco da Gama are weighed down more than $100 million in debts while Everton, have, of course, been running at record deficits for years and are awaiting the verdict from an independent commission on a charge by the Premier League that the club violated profitability and sustainability rules during the 2021-22 financial year.
On the pitch, the notion that, with the exception of Sevilla where 777’s shareholding is only around 15%, these are all going to be long-term rebuilding projects has been reinforced with Genoa suffering relegation to Serie B shortly after the takeover went through (they have since been promoted back to Serie A), Hertha Berln falling out of the Bundesliga to Germany’s increasingly competitive second division last season and Vasco in danger of relegation back to Brazil’s second tier this term.
There have also been open protests by supporters of some of these clubs against 777 Partners, either because of suspicions that Wander and his firm are prioritising profit over the long-term health of the clubs they own, because of broken promises and absent investment in the team, through scepticism of certain club’s place in 777’s multi-club stable or umbrage at attempts to monetise the fanbase.
Last month, Standard fans unfurled banners in their home end expressing concern at a lack of investment in the team and that 777 might exploit their club for the gain of others in the 777 Football Group: “Multiple properties or multiple mediocrities,” “No money, no ambition”, and “Your galaxy should not harm our future”. Hertha fans, meanwhile, held up messages at a recent home game that read: “Wander: Insurance for football fans? Our investments are called identity and co-determination. Josh Wander, the only thing we assure you is our disapproval of you!”
At Red Star, the fourth-oldest club in France, the opposition from supporters is likely more ideological and nationalistic, with the historically working-class and fiercely Parisien fans deeply uncomfortable with being owned by a nakedly capitalistic entity from a foreign country.
The feedback from supporters hasn't all been negative, though. Tobia Salvai, of the Genoa UK Supporters' Club, recently explained to BBC Sport, in words that will strike a cord with Evertonians: "I was happy when 777 took over and I could dream of a bright future for Genoa. For many years Genoa has been badly managed by the previous owner and there were always money issues, or planning and strategy problems.
"They have invested in the club's academy, and have recently launched a bond to involve the fans and locals in the project. The club's debt is still consistent but under control and Genoa sold 27,777 season tickets, which is a new record. 777 are not gods or saints — they are in to make money for their investors — but the fact is that they are the best insurance for our future."
Evertonians, who have endured foreign and murky ownership and years of under-performance and false dawns, surely just want their club to be well-run, put on a stable footing and to have clear signs of a strategy to incrementally return the Blues to being competitive in the right half of the Premier League. But the situation at Vasco da Gama, which has many parallels with that at Goodison Park, including some significant creditors who might call in their debt at any time and a paucity of funds available for team building, doesn't offer a lot of encouragement.
Josimar assess that, “most of the money put in [at Vasco] by 777 appears to have been gobbled up by debt servicing, payment of arrears and operating costs, leaving little to invest in improving the squad. More worryingly, creditors have started lining up to demand payment of their dues – creditors which included clubs who’d sold players to Vasco and were still waiting for payment in May of this year.”
Furthermore, the Norwegian publication recently reported that Vasco SAF had loaned $5 million to F3EA, a financial services company under the 777 Partners umbrella, without the knowledge of the club’s Board of Directors. “Standard business practice," according to Lipchitz who said: “The loan was repaid on time and with interest above market rate; and 777 injected additional capital into the club shortly afterward.” Nevertheless, it follows a pattern of behaviour levelled at 777 whereby they move money around between entities. One former employee of the firm who spoke to Josimar on condition of anonymity described their activities as “a shell game”.
Just as worrying, given the payments that will come due from Everton to Udinese for Beto and Sportimg CP for Youssef Chermiti, for example, Vasco have just been handed a transfer ban by FIFA for failing to meet a deadline for repayments of debts due to the likes LOSC Lille, Nacional of Uruguay and Atletico Tucuman in Argentina but the club have given assurances that they plan to settle the outstanding payments by the end of the current season.
Just this year, the British Basketball League, of which 777 Partners own 45% in addition to a majority stake in the London Lions basketball team, lodged a complaint over late payment of a £900,000 tranche owed by the Florida private investment firm as part of their takeover of the league.
Again, these incidents echo 777’s and Wander’s own personal histories of missing deadlines and making late payments on debts owed. They seem to come up with the money in the end but not without incurring problems and compromising the standing of the assets they own in the interim .
The Premier League may be where some of the richest entities in the world want to plant their flag but while there may be a queue of investors willing to pay as much as £5 billion for Manchester United and that club’s massive worldwide fanbase and commercial pulling power, there doesn’t appear to be anyone with sufficiently deep pockets or a long enough time horizon prepared to sink £1 billion-plus into Everton — that despite the huge potential that exists in perhaps England’s biggest sleeping giant.
With MSP Sports Capital seemingly pushed off the stage, 777 appear to be the only game in town — at least the only visible one — but, as The Esk has posited on these pages, “where [is] the evidence that 777 Partners can provide the financing needed to rescue and move the club forwards? Where is the evidence that the funding model will not be heavily dependent upon debt? Where’s the evidence that the partially completed stadium will not be leveraged to assist the 777 acquisition – the model used by the Glazers in acquiring Manchester United – use the club’s assets as collateral, but don’t use shareholder cash?”
Given that it’s been over a year since either 777 or its subsidiaries are known to have closed a structured settlement contract, observers question where the firm will source the funds it will need. Josimar asked: “[H]ow can 777 survive when so many of its football clubs, airlines, and connected companies seem to be struggling financially?” Wander and his company claim to be self-sufficient and “not dependent on third-party investors” but the Norwegian publication assert that it is their understanding that funding has come from outside sources, including Boich Investment Group and Leadenhall Capital Partners, a specialist insurance and investments manager with headquarters in London, as well as private equity groups and “a series of high net-worth individuals who have yet to be named in public.” Bloomberg in the US and German magazine Kicker even suggested recently that Wander has sought investment from the PIF, the Saudi sovereign fund that owns Newcastle, to provide working capital to Genoa and/or Hertha Berlin.
Beyond sport, 777 have interests in the insurance, aviation, media and entertainment industries and are variously reported to manage assets worth anywhere from $3 billion to $12 billion. But beyond finding the funds to make their initial investments into the various football clubs they have bought into, ready cash for further investment does not appear to be as easy to come by.
It does not appear as though The Esk’s concerns were satisfactorily addressed by Dransfield this week and 777’s track record in football is too recent to be able to pass sound judgement on whether they will be successful as owners of Everton. At a minimum, Wander and Pasko will need to have convinced Moshiri that they have the capital to pay him what he wants for the club, presumably over time, perhaps a period of years, and they will need to satisfy the Premier League that they pass the Owners’ and Directors’ Test. Should they pass — whether a letter from Lori Goney, Lindsy Noell’s mother, to the League’s chief executive Richard Masters warning him “about 777 Partners, which owns a series of companies that profit from the misery of others” makes any difference remains to be seen — it will only be a matter of time before Everton are added to 777 Partners’ portfolio of football clubs and supporters will have little choice but to see how things unfold from there.
If it’s at all possible to set aside the unsettling history of how Wander, his associates and their company got to where they are today, the scepticism and/or distrust of the firm from many supporters of its existing clubs, and the deep-seated doubts over how they can fund a takeover of the magnitude of Everton in the first instance and then rebuild it in the second, this could be a positive development for the Blues if 777 run the club the way they seem to be promising they will do.
That is by focusing on making Everton self-sustaining and capable of managing its existing debt (as described above by the Genoa UK Supporters' Club representative) while still operating at a level whereby it can continue to buy and sell in a manner that allows it to begin an upward trajectory in the Premier League. If they can at least put the club on a sound financial footing, provide the necessary funding to finish the stadium and eventually begin to make inroads on what has become depressingly burdensome debt, then they offer more promise than a continuation of the Moshiri regime, the “devil” that we Blues know, which has increasingly been living hand-to-mouth in recent months.
Given that they only own a relatively small piece of Sevilla, Everton would be the jewel in 777’s crown and, potentially, the most powerful component of 777 Football Group’s multi-club collection. Whether, as The Esk cautions, the effect of what the spokesman Heckelman describes as a “shared services model” of centralised functions is dilutive in terms of the running of the club or beneficial over the long term would also remain to be seen.
“You don’t need to staff up on HR and finance people because we have people who are experts in those areas,” Heckelman told the Washington Post, "so you focus on building your company. 777 provides its clubs access to data analytics to guide on-field tactics, training programs to improve players’ development and marketing opportunities to bolster budgets that “they never would have been able to on their own.”
Theoretically, there is, perhaps, much to benefit from Dransfield’s experience at City Group even though the jury is very much out on the multi-club model in general. Certainly, Standard Liege fans are deeply sceptical and 777’s acquisition of Everton might heighten fears their club will be pushed further down the pecking order. While it is still very early days, though, 777 haven’t yet leveraged their stable of teams to any great degree, save for some loan moves between sister clubs during the last couple of transfer windows. It’s possible the arrangement could benefit Everton and even provide a useful farm system like the one used by Chelsea with Vitesse whereby Academy players can be sent out on loan to gain valuable experience in other leagues.
Then there is the question of expertise that could be added to Everton’s boardroom where, perhaps, the appointment of Dransfield and Spors to 777 Football Group indicates a savviness that might extend to Goodison Park’s corridors. Not only that but the ownership by the Americans could extend the club’s commercial reach, leading to a badly-needed uplift in sponsorship revenue, something that has been relatively modest since the sanctioning of Usmanov forced Moshiri and the club to cut ties with USM Holdings.
Ultimately, in the absence of any substantive knowledge of what 777 Partners have proposed to Moshiri and their plans should their takeover be rubber-stamped by the Premier League, it’s all supposition and conjecture. In many ways, Evertonian hopes and faith will have been put by the current owner in the hands of what he describes as “the best partners to take our great Club forward, with all the benefits of their multi-club investment model”.
Few Blues fans feel as though the British-Iranian businessman is trustworthy enough at this point for that statement to hold much water. What they see is a foreign-based entity run by a man of suspect moral character with a deeply tarnished and chequered past on the one hand and only a limited history in the running of professional football clubs on the other.
Can fans, who find themselves caught “between the devil and the deep blue sea” in a quandary they have no real say in, count on the capacity of Wander and company to come up with the millions of pounds it will need just to keep the wolves from the proverbial door? Can they have faith that 777 Partners will act in the interests of the supporters, the club and its local community? Or has Moshiri done a deal with a school of sharks who could somehow end up being worse custodians than he?
These remain deeply uncertain times.
Further reading and listening
- How Everton buyers Josh Wander and 777 Partners made their money — Washington Post
- The 777 Mystery — Josimar
- 777 Partners: A New Dawn Or a New Disaster? — American Toffees Podcast
- Who is 777?: Interview with Paul Brown — For Vuck's Sake podcast
- Dark Blue — Josimar
Reader ResponsesSelected thoughts from readers
2 Posted 03/10/2023 at 03:38:47
Deeply unsettling is right. Who will bankrupt / send us into administration soonest? The incompetent(s) or the alleged asset strippers.
Well the Incompetent(s) have their hands on the wheel right now and the P&S thing is coming right down the road at us.
The Incompetent in Chief wants out and doesn't care who gives him a deal he can live with and its devil take the hindmost.
777 must think they can make a bob or two in an eventual (2025-ish??) sell on – or why bother? Will they even care if we get relegated, what with parachute payments?
Moshiri is?? / may / will send us down the gurgler pretty soon.
I think 777 need to keep the football side going or who will play in the new stadium? If the answer is 'no one' then what's the point?
There are some days that can apply to Everton - what's the point...along with; the oft misquoted (like now probably) Dirty Harry 'Do you feel lucky' thing..
Well Do you?
(I gots to know)
3 Posted 03/10/2023 at 10:29:15
Thank you Lyndon for putting this together, Ive read the articles but this really puts all we know on the table. Also, superbly done in a fair and balanced way which allows the reader to draw his or her own conclusions.
My condensed thought now is ‘what choice do we have?
Its a bitter pill to swallow but we cant stop supporting Everton. A very good post from John Daley yesterday made the point extremely well about the false expectations of sainthood or any normal levels of morality of many current owners. The majority of the time now having a controversial owner goes with the territory, whether fans like it or not.
I still suspect there will be more twists and turns as the above is only what we know, there may be more stones to be unturned as they get forensically examined. MSP or some other consortium may yet step in if 777 get rejected in the due process.
4 Posted 03/10/2023 at 10:39:14
Lyndon, excellent background to 777, unfortunately it reads more like a mafia run empire than a reputable future owner of a significant football club. If I was Moshiri I would be very concerned about ever seeing all the promised sale monies. Some of the background info reads like the worst type of US greed, morally corrupt, money above all else, brushes with the courts, prosecutions, unsavoury practices by most peoples standards?...one has to ask the obvious question, what's their end game? Owning a premiership side requires significant ongoing finances, yet their profile suggests brinkmanship, failing to pay what's due on time..
I doubt seriously that the league could, in any way shape or form, allow them to pass scrutiny or the directors test of ownership.. if they do it will be a mockery. One hopes that, as Tony alludes too, there are other, more reputable players, hoping for a chance.
This could all go so very, very wrong...
5 Posted 03/10/2023 at 10:47:46
A most depressing and negative article, more like something from the Guardian stable than TW that I didn't expect to read here. Okay so things are not rosey, we all know that and I accept that 100% but is it necessary to write a piece that is so negative from start to finish?
To put things in a little bit of perspective, 777 might be as bad as is feared. On the other hand they may be a very welcome change from the existing poor leadership we have now. No-one knows, or is goining to know, until it happens. That would be the time to write such a piece. Not now.
I might be very wrong with these thoughts but make no apology. We, observers, cannot alter or influence what happens so must sit back, however uncomfortably, and await to see how this saga unfolds and ends, and even then it may not be the end.
6 Posted 03/10/2023 at 11:05:27
Not bothered who buys the club or their past misdemeanours I'd welcome the North Korean lunatic as long as the requisite finance to make us great again popped up. Diddling around avoiding relegation and existing in a mid table stupor is of no interest, if they can crack that financial nut I'm all in.
My biggest worry is in my experience Americans often have a delusional confidence in middle management cliches, slick power point presentations and organisational shape shifting. Such things may work shifting apple jack, grain and molasses when almost all variables are nailed down but ask Randy Lerner, Hicks&Gilette and even FSG (kopites just hate them) how it works in the chaotic maelstrom of football.
8 Posted 03/10/2023 at 11:44:20
Moshiri is a failure.
Kenwright is the most untrustworthy person ever to have set foot in Goodison.
The mess of the loan to finance the stadium which leaves a financial axe over any potential takeover, sums up the two mentioned above.
777 are clearly NOT a suitable owner.
However with the clearly hidden caveats sloshing around, no sane person or group would touch this house of cards with a magical feather.
I don't believe in any God. But boy oh boy do I wish there was one I could pray to right now.
9 Posted 03/10/2023 at 12:21:24
Well if you crawl into bed and sleep with dogs, don't be surprised to catch fleas.
10 Posted 03/10/2023 at 12:28:32
I know next to nothing about football finance but it seems to me that the Moshiri-Kenwright years have been a disaster in financial as well as football terms. We have been circling the drain for two seasons so probably if nothing changes we will be relegated and maybe even in administration.
It is true that 777 seems ethically a bit challenged, but having had Usmanov for years, we are hardly in a position to be pious about it. If they get the club on a financially sustainable basis, which is what they say they want, then that has to be good. Presumably they are in business to make money, so Everton's long term success has to be their aim. They seem to be serious about football club ownership, anyway.
11 Posted 03/10/2023 at 14:29:39
Again I propose -- without the slightest supporting evidence -- the possibility that MSP Sports Capital, the highly respectable US investors, are eventually going to wind up with a significant ownership stake in Everton through the 777 transaction.
MSP's £120m investment offer was halted not by a loss of interest but by a regulatory obstacle, and MSP then very quietly and with zero fanfare loaned the club £140m to finish the stadium. For such smart, conservative businessmen to take a seemingly uncharacteristic gamble would likely indicate a high confidence on MSP's part that they will profit from the transaction.
777 Partners then suddenly reappeared with their new offer -- one which is, as mentioned in the article, financially opaque. So what is the source of MSP's apparent confidence?
My theory is that MSP's respectability offers the less-than-respectable 777 access to more solid financing than they appear to have, allowing them to survive regulatory scrutiny and complete the transaction -- at which point MSP becomes 777's largest creditor.
And then, at some point in the future, MSP accepts loan repayment from 777 not in the form of cash, but in the form of ownership shares in the club worth suspiciously close to the investment they were trying to make in the first place.
Paul The Esk reports that hostility based on past relations between the two firms makes such an arrangement highly unlikely, but they are already basically in bed together -- 777's early loan makes them, like MSP, an Everton creditor with a priority to stabilize the club's finances -- and such a backdoor deal would be one possible way to create a successful scenario for both firms. Even if they don't like each other.
This is wild and unsupported speculation, of course, but it would seem to make two unlikely investments make more sense than they currently do.
12 Posted 03/10/2023 at 15:03:37
Very balanced article much food for thought. 777 do seem like scumbags mind….
13 Posted 03/10/2023 at 15:13:57
Peter (5): "To put things in a little bit of perspective, 777 might be as bad as is feared. On the other hand they may be a very welcome change from the existing poor leadership we have now. No-one knows, or is goining to know, until it happens."
I think I've said as much in the piece, haven't I? The last section is very much "Devil's Advocate" while still acknowledging their track record to date, a lot of which is negative. In trying to present the case for whether they are worthy owners of Everton (a question many are asking), we have to look at how they operate and whether their modus operandi might cause us problems down the line.
In their rebuttal to Josimar, 777 Partners wrote: "In the article, important information was omitted about the positive impacts of 777 Partners on the projects of airlines, clubs and communities supported by the group. From disrupting an aviation market monopolized by traditional airlines, to introducing low-cost travel, to supporting numerous football clubs to achieve tournament access and !nancial sustainability under their watch, 777 Partners remains steadfast in its commitment to making a positive impact. to the communities in which it conducts business."
That might be true; a lot of what they wrote is precisely what someone in their position would say but for us, as Evertonians, it's far too early to tell whether they have been a success and benefit to the clubs they have bought into. All we can go on is how they tend to operate and highlight the concerns as we see them but, as I pointed out, some of the appointments they have made to their Football Group are encouraging and suggest they're putting the pieces in place for a successful operation.
If their takeover is successful and they show tangible signs of improving Everton, our financial position and prospects, have no doubt I will acknowledge as such on ToffeeWeb.
14 Posted 03/10/2023 at 15:48:43
Mike 11 - I fully subscribe to your theory and came the same conclusion. I respect Paul's point that there is bad blood between the parties but, as you say, it's business and the opportunity for capital growth would, I think, cap any personal issues. Time, as they say, will tell!
15 Posted 03/10/2023 at 15:56:16
A very thorough and well balanced article Lyndon putting a lot of facts into our laps.
At the end of the day we have been a rudderless ship for years with no direction or purpose except to hold other people responsible for poor decision making and lack of support by the hierarchy.
777 are like sharks in a shark infested water but they are invested sharks unlike Kenwright and Moshiri who are total buffoons only made rich out of opportunism rather than ability.
At least 777 may be hands on and communicative and I tend to lean towards Mike G's theory that MSP (lifelong Evertonians) will have some say in what goes on.
19 Posted 03/10/2023 at 17:02:37
Mike (11) I'm of the same opinion as you. As supporters,I think there's bugger all that we can do, to affect the processes going on with EFC in the middle. So all the details of what alledgedly surrounded 777's past, is past, and there is nothing we can do about that, either.
It seems to me though, that MSP, if they are a highly respectable company, as Mike says they are. I couldn't see them having anything to do with 777's involvement in EFC. Yet they are involved. They have leant EFC a lot of money, over £100million.
Because of the money that's owed to that Wirral company before MSP could get involved, I'd have thought that they would have nothing to do with EFC if 777's involvement was known about. My guess is that it was.
Again, I can only see that MSP want to eventually become further involved in the ownership of EFC, once they are able to do so.
777, MAY, have had shady dealings in the past (but how come its all coming to the surface now?
Again, I'm sure MSP are aware of any so called iffy history; but it doesn't seem to have stopped them becoming involved now; and think for the future too.
Whether 777 are going to be worthey owners or not, I haven't any eveidence to say. But believe they want to see Everton become a successful club, otherwise they will have chucked a lot of money right down the Pan.
So all the other stuff, any court cases in the USA, what happens with the palaver this month, I don't think we know, so we'll have to wait and see what happens.
I think/hope that if get away from relegation after October's outcome, then this is our best chance of progress off the field.
Ethics? I certainly think the Premier League has sold it's soul to the devil, years ago. There are clubs who have owners who chopped opponents up, I understand we have we have Chinese money involved in clubs, and I'm sure China is innocent as the day is long.
777? even if some of the accusations of less than ethical business dealings are true, that pales into insignificance to other monies floating around the Premier League.
As a supporter, it makes sense to me to take the view that if it means getting rid of Kenwright at last. or hwving that slimy sod having anything to do with our club, I'm with 777, and hopefully, MSP as well.
21 Posted 03/10/2023 at 20:39:42
Thanks for a very informative article, Lyndon. After reading all of that and the associated links, I wouldn't touch these guys with a barge pole. I think Christine (4) has got it about right. As for those people saying Usmanov was ethically challenged and we shouldn't worry about 777 partners past histor; at least Usmanov actually had plenty of money, whereas 777 partners sound like a giant ponzi scheme waiting to crash and burn.
22 Posted 03/10/2023 at 20:53:54
Thanks for the well written article Lyndon. End of the day none of us can do anything about the sales process and we'll have to wait and see.
As said before, whoever the owner is the most important thing is to avoid relegation. I just cannot see us bouncing back up straight away and think it would be a very very long time before we got back up again. Doesn't near thinking about.
At least the current owners know it's game over for them at Everton, they don't even bother to turn up to games anymore. So, on the positive front, we will have new owners at some point this season. The current ones a have been near disastrous so better to take a punt on someone (anyone) new to at least have the off chance of improvement.
23 Posted 03/10/2023 at 21:10:32
Heving read through this deeply disturbing piece it feels as though my love-affair with this club is coming to an end. This is no longer the club I began supporting, and I can not possibly get behind this. Moshiri and Kenwright has brought absolute ruin on a once proud club.
Kenwright I put most of the blame on you! Goodbye Everton, sadly this time I think it will be for good. Football is a thing of the past
24 Posted 03/10/2023 at 21:39:38
What a brilliant article bringing everything together. Lyndon youre a real credit to Everton and whilst Ive always admired your English writing skills, your research is impressive too. Well done.
Like many posters, Im super worried. I cant see how a financially and morally bankrupt organisation (777) can do any good for us at all. If I wasnt as concerned to events on the pitch, Id have more energy to be concerned with the events off the pitch.
The 777 ownership will pass the test because its just a formality. Its a BS test so lets get used to the owners.
Moshiri was the worst thing to happen to Everton but at least his heart was in the right place even if his brain wasnt. I fear both are absent with 777.
25 Posted 03/10/2023 at 22:17:01
Thank you Lyndon for providing this information today. I don't really know what to the think of it but it seems to suit Moshiri and possibly his associates to the exclusion of others and appears to be compatible to Rights and Media Funding.
It is going to be a real test for those held accountable for regulation, though in post-Brexit Britain lack of regulation may be the only plus that vested interests may hold up as a success out of that shambles.
The Independent Commission will be interesting as they pore over the results of austerity on the Everton Football side, not the off field Management. The pay-off of two Directors was more symbolic for the Commission than financial. Will Everton be able to provide enough assurance to counter the damming Auditor report that triggered the referral?
At least all will be soon revealed. But it will not stop me being concerned by the really bad home defeat by Luton, after too good wins.
26 Posted 03/10/2023 at 23:21:27
Thanks Lyndon for a fantastic piece. From the moment Putin invaded Ukraine I felt we were in trouble. Now it feels like we are in big trouble. It is very difficult at present to see a way out of it.
The shared services model is fine in theory but the efficiencies of centralised expertise are often negated by poor communication and one size solutions ill-suited to the needs of the front end.
27 Posted 03/10/2023 at 23:57:16
Lyndon, I have to say that this article should be sent to the Premier League as being representative of the actions of the directors of 777. It would be hard to offset this against any positives this collection of people would bring to the club and to the premier League. As it's all public domain it's hard to refute and to my understanding it is a well collated, well researched overview the league should be made aware of as a basis for review.
28 Posted 04/10/2023 at 01:51:58
Thanks Lyndon for this detailed assessment of our current situation. Personally I am still trying to find the answers to two question:-
1. Can "anyone" provide the money that 777 require to buy Everton FC?
2. Do 777 have to provide the Premier League (and therefore presumably the UK government) details of where the money is coming from?
30 Posted 04/10/2023 at 01:58:49
There is a world of difference between consumer lending in the US and Europe. I doubt that anyone in Norway or the UK understands the differences. The US has a more of a free market approach. There is less political interference. A loan or sale is voluntarily agreed between two parties. The social safety net is different. I know of people who took "predatory" loans to pay for rehab which probably saved their lives. Outfits like 777 would not exist if there were not people who wanted to do business with them.
Just my 2 cents.
32 Posted 04/10/2023 at 13:15:33
The tweet below dated December 2020, hasn't stood the teat of time has it? It's obvious that the Pandemic and the War in Ukraine, has set the club and Moshiri back considerably. As the club once again gone to non-mainstream lenders to help the club keep afloat and build the stadium and why we now have Sean Dyche rather than the world class manager, we once had, in charge.
Farhad Moshiri. Invested over £400m into the club. We owe him a lot.
Paid off debts.
Opened up access to mainstream lenders rather than Vibrac etc.
Genuine progress with a new stadium.
Appointed a world class manager who has won everything.
Invested over £400m into the club.
We owe him a lot.
34 Posted 04/10/2023 at 17:46:24
Thanks Lyndon for a brilliantly compiled article. Really interesting to get the full picture of the 777 group. My distrust of the well intentioned but hopeless Moshiri, together with my absolute loathing of Kenwright results in my view that surely anything has got to better than those two. Difficult times for sure, but something has to change and the sooner the better.
35 Posted 04/10/2023 at 19:12:24
This doesn't read well. This is not the kind of organisation that I want taking over after Moshiri's incompetent period in charge. As Christine says this account makes one feel that a mafiaesque group is coming in charge. Most clubs now seem to be owned by dubious political entities or American financial groups on the cusp of legality. John Moores or if you like Bob Lord no longer cuts the mustard as owner of their local club.
I hope that Mike Gaynes is right and that a slightly more credible group emerge out of this chaos.Whatever happens a lot depends on the result of our"trial". If Leicester etc ask for another £300 million in compensation, surely administration follows?
I fear for the future on and off the pitch.
36 Posted 06/10/2023 at 03:19:00
Cue the 1987 classic "Wall Street": Everton might be the Blue Star Airline in the movie, but there is no Bud Fox (Evertonians) persuading a Sir Lawrence Wildman (the White Knight) saving Blue Star from Gordon Gekko (the likes of Burnley, Leeds & others who are preparing to sue the club and get it relegated + the creditors & Loan Sharks...etc.)
Hang in there, my fellow Evertonians!
Thanks again Lyndon for a thorough walk-through on 777.
37 Posted 06/10/2023 at 16:13:05
It all seems so sleezy and hopeless, like a choosing between living under Hitler or Stalin.
Moshiri has dug us into a ditch and we're now just waiting to be covered in the dirt.
The wagons are circled, were under attack, ammo is running short and I'm looking hopelessly at the horizon waiting for the cavalry.
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