The chief sponsor of top football club AA Gent has ruled out the sale of the club to help it improve its chances in today’’s multi-million world of football.
In a message posted on social media, VDK Bank said, “The club may never be sold. Not now and not later. We will never approve a sale.”
Yesterday financial daily De Tijd reported that two other main figures behind the club, Ivan De Witte and Michel Louwagie, were sounding out the possibility of a partial or complete takeover of the club by a sponsor with deep pockets. The world of footballl has changed in recent years, the logic goes, and AA Gent needs backing to be able to compete on today’s market.
But the reports did not go down welll with VDK Bank, a regional bank whose logo appears on players’ shirts.
On Facebook, the bank posted the following uncompromising message:
“To be very clear: for VDK Bank, as the main sponsor of AA Gent, it is self-evident that the club will never be sold. Not now, and not later. The club is not a commodity, it is a heritage for the good of the supporters and the people of Ghent.”
The post goes on:
“Both the City of Ghent and VDK Bank have always supported the club from that perspective. We will therefore never approve a sale. The cooperative statute with a social purpose was adopted for that reason and does not allow such a sale. We adhere to that statute. Football is more than money.”
The bank is closely associated with the city of Ghent as well as the club. The problem with any sale is that the partner found is unlikely to share the regional attachment to Ghent, but because of the club’s statute would still have to deal closely with the city’s council, which could lead to clashes.
The city council itself issues a curt statement: “For us, local anchoring is important in any future scenario for AA Gent.”
The football club changed its status in 2016 from a non-profit to a cooperative partnership with a social component. Ivan De Witte controls 25% of the club, Michel Louwagie 15%. 40% is held by other directors, including 14% in the hands of VDK Bank. The remaining 20% is in the hands of members of the former non-profit organisation and of the city of Ghent.
As a result, any takeover or all or part of the club would require the approval of a variety of different shareholders, including the city.