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Southampton’s new billionaire owner has exchanged one football battle with another

Serbia-born billionaire Dragan Solak used to pay to watch Premier League matches, but with his £ 100m move to Southampton Football Club he has changed.

“If you look at the rise in prices for high-quality sports. . . I thought if it was going to be crazy like this, I would rather be in the gaming business instead of in the broadcasting business, “Solak, 57, told the Financial Times.

United Group, a European media company founded by Solak more than 20 years ago, had the right to watch Premier League matches in the Balkans. But his in Southampton it comes as United lost most of its recent rights to a government-sponsored partner who donated nearly $ 10 which his Amsterdam-based company had previously paid.

Telekom Srbija is set to watch Premier League matches in the region from next season after agreeing a € 600m fee over six years.

Solak described the money as “ridiculous” and said the sale was part of a crackdown on United, which he said was a blow to Serbia’s last independent corporation, and to support the government of President Aleksandar Vucic.

With fewer Serbian families subscribing to a number of ropes, football is an exciting prospect for many to switch to Telekom Srbija – a spectator show that is respected because the broadcaster has less anti-government, Solak protests.

Vucic and the government are facing a run-off election on April 3 and are expected to remain in office.

“From next year [Telekom Srbija] will have about 100 percent football and other sports. They will be able to get more subscribers from [United’s] network, “said Solak.” Then [those subscribers] will no longer be able to follow the story. That is the problem. ”

Telekom Srbija has denied any wrongdoing. It added that the company “spends most of its money and energy” and that the Premier League agreement “will have a positive impact on the economy of more than € 1bn”.

United wrote a Ask against Serbia last year by the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, an international anti-terrorism organization, alleging that it violates the bilateral alliance with the Netherlands by reducing its market share and promoting Telekom Serbia’s interests.

The Vucic government says Solak and United support the opposition, and they are linked to Dragan Djilas, a former Belgrade mayor and former Democratic Party president in Serbia.

Solak denies any connection with Djilas or political propaganda in Serbia, realizing that carrying out independent issues is a business venture.

The Premier League’s connection with Telekom Srbija comes at a time when opponents are skeptical of its actions with government-backed organizations after deciding to accept a Saudi-led transfer from Newcastle United. The clubs were so outraged by the alliance that they forced league chairman Gary Hoffman to resign.

Peter Horrocks, a former BBC World Service official and member of the United N1 news agency, wrote to Premier League boss Richard Masters last year warning that the game was “being used” by the Serbian government, with the aim of preventing the crisis. opponents and obstructs the freedom of the press ”.

A source close to the Premier League said Telekom Srbija had won the competition and that certain rights had jumped in recent years.

The league’s domestic partnership with Sky, BT and Amazon has not changed at $ 5bn, but its US free price almost tripled to $ 2.7bn in six years.

Telekom Srbija states that it “paid exactly the amount required. . . in such competitions ”.

United, which for the past three years has raised more money than interest, taxes, lower prices and a return of € 1bn on profits of € 2bn, is overseen by business partner BC Partners, although Solak retains just over 33 percent.

He added that the club paid 35 million euros a year, “a donation I signed and cried” according to the existing agreement, United was “paying € 11m. [a year and] not broken at all ”.

Marko Milosavljevic, a professor of journalism at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, described United as the president of Serbia as “the number one enemy”.

“Vucic is trying to achieve full media control in Serbia,” he said. “If you. . . reducing their game can reduce United’s power, just the words of the opposition, “he added.

Billionaire Dragan Solak says Serbian government wants to regulate media freedom of the game © James Marsh / Shutterstock

Solak lives in Switzerland and is said to have avoided travel to Serbia for fear of reprisals.

He emphasizes that Southampton is a “special fund” that has nothing to do with United or Serbian politics. Although the purchase will give him the right to attend league meetings, “I do not want to abuse my position”, he insisted.

Solak is the largest investor in the newly formed Sport Republic, which acquired 80 percent in Southampton for £ 100m. The total cost of £ 200m- £ 250m includes club debt.

He estimates that betting on the growing competition for free broadcasting will pay off in Southampton, where the epidemic helped push $ 126m into the 2019/20 season, down from $ 144m last year.

Sport Republic seeks to exert a “major influence” on many football clubs and sports equipment, in a similar pattern to that of Manchester City’s Premier League champions. The cash-in-transit vehicle was developed by Rasmus Ankersen, a former football manager at Brentford, and Henrik Kraft, a former associate at the KKR business company, which sold United to BC Partners.

But Solak also said he did not provide the kind of money that football fans want: “I am not the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi or the prince of Saudi Arabia,” he said. “I can’t bring in 500m to buy new players.”

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