Doom and gloom among Melbourne Victory fans. And why not? When the World Cup finished we were all on top of the world. A great Socceroo campaign and ready to go. Then disaster happened. The APL announced the grand finals for Sydney thing, and thugs exploited the discontent to get their jollies by invading the pitch and assaulting a player, causing a series of penalties and bans. Then we find out that Melbourne Victory is in a very precarious financial position. Talk about when it rains it pours.
While members and fans were told that everything was hunky dory it is evident now that it wasn’t for some time. When 777 Partners got involved in Melbourne Victory there was hardly a murmur among the fan base. It was seen as a good thing especially after the sad passing of club director and major shareholder, Mario Biasin. The difference of what it was believed to have happened with the 777 involvement is reflected in the first paragraphs of two articles both co-written by Vince Rugari in the Channel 9 press. The first one written on 5/10/2022 stating “Melbourne Victory have secured their financial future after the death of former director Mario Biasin, with an American private investment firm adding the A-Leagues club to its growing network of teams across Europe and South America.” And the second written on 1/1/2023 stating “Melbourne Victory lost $6.7 million and was in deep financial trouble just months before it struck a deal that could hand control of the club to a US private equity investor within five years.”
What really alarmed fans was what that second article outlined: “The private equity investor was given the option to own up to 70 per cent of the club within five years through an investment of up to $30 million, the documents show. After four or five years, 777 Partners also had the right to walk away from Victory and be repaid the $30 million at a compounding interest rate of 10 per cent a year. The deal would also give it a preferential position over existing shareholders if Victory was liquidated.”
Basically, to be blunt, 777 Partners have Melbourne Victory by the short and curlies.
777 Partners on a soccer spending spree
As an Italian born the links between Melbourne Victory, 777 and Genoa pricked my interest.
One thing that is noticeable is that 777 went hard in getting involved with football clubs worldwide last year. In just a few months it either got partial or total control of very famous teams.
777 Partners has already been present in European football since 2018, when it took over 6% of Sevilla. However last year they went for the kill wanting to take over the club. Shareholders of the club blocked plans by 777 to oust its board and its Chairman Jose Castro and all board members but failed to line up the support needed at a public meeting of shareholders.
In March 2022, 777 Partners acquired full ownership of Belgian top-flight soccer club Standard Liège
In November 2022 it acquired a 64.7% controlling stake in Bundesliga club Hertha Berlin, a deal which could potentially be largest investment from a foreign company in a German soccer club.
In February 2022 it acquited a 70% stake in Brazilian soccer club Vasco de Gama
The reason behind for this sudden acquisition spree is unknown. However, some business analysts say this is related to 777 Partners’ having the airline sector is at the center of their strategy. It is no coincidence that the headquarters are on the nineteenth floor of 66 Brickell, a skyscraper in Miami famous for being the home of the airlines. Recently, the fund purchased 24 Boeing 737-8 Max (with another 60 booked), with the strategy of leasing the aircraft to airlines, with particular attention to those aiming for low cost.
Andalusia and Seville are tourist destinations par excellence, while in Genoa the focus will be on developing the Cristoforo Colombo airport, with the ambition of making it the gateway for those comes from the Atlantic. And Melbourne Victory? The shirt sponsor of the team is Bonza airlines. A new low cost budget airline funded and backed by 777 Partners. The airline hoped to have planes in the sky, but the company’s take-off date is unclear as it is still navigating regulatory approvals with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) to obtain its Air Operator’s Certificate.
Is 777 there for the money, not for the football?
One thing is certain. 777 Partners is not a charity. If the Melbourne Victory deal goes pear shape they’d be out of there as quickly as a plane out of Canberra on a Friday night before a long weekend. But they are not totally disinterested in football. In Genoa as their ‘football man’ they installed the Argentinian Gustavo Mascardi, who, according to the Gazzetta dello Sport discovered a few talents. The last was Paulo Dybala, but going back in time there are many other excellent names, from Montero to Crespo, Veron, Asprilla, Salas, Cordoba and Burdisso: the best of South America brought to Italy.
The future of Melbourne Victory
There is plenty of doom and gloom among Melbourne Victory supporters at the moment which is not surprising. How 777 will behave towards the Victory will determine its survival. If they are in for the quick buck and a liquidation under extremely generous terms then it is doomed. But if, how it seems to be overseas, they want a successful team to work in tandem with their aviation interests then perhaps 777 may be the unlikely saviour out of this mess.
Melbourne Victory is no North Queensland Fury or Gold Coast United. It is an A-League foundation club which has been very successful and has one of the biggest (and in certain years the biggest) membership and fans in the whole competition. Its demise would hit hard at the A-League’s image and reputation.
Looking the buying strategy of 777 Partners they don’t want to be just a minor shareholder but be the owner of the joint (hence the Seville dispute). The way Melbourne Victory is at the moment they can name the date of when the current club management is going to be ousted. In the scheme of things 777 bought Vasco de Gama for USD $138 million, Genoa for 150 million Euros I guess buying Hertha Berlin wouldn’t have been cheap. Up to 30 AUD millions for Victory is relatively a minor investment. Victory may survive. If it will remain the same team as it is now, or whether it may have a Melbourne Hearts – Melbourne City type of transformation is yet to be seen.