The proposed sale of the Premier League soccer team Everton F.C. to a Miami-based holding company has stalled because the firm, 777 Partners, has failed to provide audited financial statements to a British government regulator that must approve the deal.
The regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, delivered its request to 777 Partners this month, according to multiple people with direct knowledge of the approval process, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly. If the company does not provide the requested financials or an acceptable explanation, its proposed takeover of Everton — a deal involving hundreds of millions of dollars in assumed debt and a coveted place in the world’s richest soccer league — could fall apart.
The missing documents are the most significant complication to date in the effort by 777 Partners to add Everton to the collection of high-profile but financially troubled teams it has acquired over the past two years.
A failure to close the deal could have severe consequences for the financial viability of Everton, a founding member of the Premier League saddled with the ongoing costs of a half-built new stadium, more than $500 million in debt and a projected annual loss of about $100 million. Everton’s finances are so dire that the club requires monthly infusions of millions of dollars, most recently a multimillion-dollar loan from 777 Partners, to keep operating.
“Out of respect for the process, 777 Partners will not be commenting on the ongoing regulatory approval process for its proposed acquisition of Everton F.C.,” the company said in a statement.
Everton’s current owner, Farhad Moshiri, on Monday dismissed concerns of any holdup or the suitability of 777 Partners as custodian of Everton. “They are highly professional and deliver exactly when they say they will, and I look forward to them achieving all their regulatory approvals and proceeding to completion on the timetable we set,” he told Sky Sports News.
When it announced in September that it had reached a deal for a controlling interest in Everton, 777 Partners said it hoped to complete its takeover by the end of the year. That timeline now seems questionable.
For the sale to be approved, 777 Partners must convince not only the Financial Conduct Authority but also the Premier League and England’s Football Association that it would be what they classify as a “fit and proper” steward of the 145-year-old club.
But according to multiple people familiar with the process and a review of documents related to it, those bodies are unsatisfied with the financial statements that have been provided. In particular, they are uneasy about the failure of 777 Partners to provide up-to-date audited financial records for a holding company whose subsidiaries include not only well-known soccer teams in Belgium, Brazil, Germany and France but also investments in structured finance, insurance, media and airplane leasing.
The audited records are not the only hurdle to approval of an Everton sale. The authorities are also asking the firm, run by its owners, Josh Wander and Steve Pasko, to provide details of the source of the funds behind the acquisition.
The questions mirror concerns that the Belgian soccer authorities raised last year as they considered whether to grant a license to another one of the company’s teams, Standard Liège. In those discussions, 777 Partners told the Belgian soccer federation’s licensing committee that it could not provide the firm’s most recently audited accounts — a routine requirement in any assessment of the suitability and solidity of the businesses financing teams in the country’s top league.
Eventually, the prospect of tossing one of Belgian soccer’s biggest teams out of the league was deemed unacceptable by the committee, and a compromise was found. Now, 777 Partners finds itself in the same position, and the clock is ticking again.
While 777 Partners is focusing on completing its purchase of Everton, current and former employees have questioned its own viability. The company, which has rapidly expanded since it was founded in 2015, continues to miss routine payments to businesses, vendors and partners, including brokers that acted on some of the soccer deals, four people familiar with 777’s operations said.
One person said the firm, which Mr. Wander recently claimed had 3,000 employees, has missed payroll on at least two occasions. Current and former employees have also reported that bonus payments, a major component of some executives’ compensation, have gone unpaid.
777 Partners said Tuesday that “all contractually guaranteed bonuses have been paid,” but acknowledged a different incident this year in which it failed to pay the electric bill for its headquarters, an oversight that a spokesman attributed to a miscommunication.
Should 777 Partners provide a fuller picture of its finances to British regulators, they most likely will find that most of 777’s soccer adventures have been funded by a single company, A-Cap. A longtime lender to 777 Partners, A-Cap has the largest exposure to many of 777’s businesses, including the soccer investments.
A unit of A-Cap, for example, funded most of a loan of at least $25 million to Everton after the deal to buy the team was announced, two people familiar with the matter said. At 777 Partners, the reliance on money from A-Cap — loans now totaling at least $1 billion — has grown so large that 777 Partners is required to regularly update A-Cap executives about continuing business plans, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation.
The relationship between the firms is so enmeshed that last year 777 Partners provided A-Cap with a $9 million loan to acquire a beachfront apartment in one of Miami’s wealthiest neighborhoods. Officials from 777 Partners declined to comment on the arrangement. A-Cap did not respond to an email seeking details of its relationship with 777 Partners.
The questions about 777 Partners’s finances and its soccer ambitions have not appeared to affect its figurehead, Mr. Wander. He was recently elected to the board of European Club Association, an influential grouping of European soccer’s top teams.
That board seat was highlighted in a prospectus produced by 777 Partners to raise even more capital for its soccer business. The group hopes to raise about $250 million by the end of the year to help finance its purchase of Everton, which, without a new owner or fresh capital, risks bankruptcy.