On 29 September 2021 the Competition Appeal Tribunal (“CAT”) heard an application by the Premier League challenging the CAT’s jurisdiction to hear a claim brought by St James Holdings Limited (“SJHL”) against the Football Association Premier League Limited (“Premier League”).
SJHL was the indirect owner of Newcastle United FC (“NUFC”). In the spring of 2020 it agreed to sell its shares in NUFC to a consortium including the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (“PIF”). The Premier League blocked that transfer when it concluded that the Saudi Arabian state itself would become a “Director” with “Control” of the NUFC (for the purposes of the Premier League Rules). SJHL issued proceedings in the CAT arguing that, in breach of competition law, the Premier League had, amongst other things, abused its dominant position on the market for control and ownership of Premier League football clubs. In particular, SJHL argued that the Premier League had been improperly influenced by external pressure from the owner of the Premier League’s broadcasting rights in the Middle East and North African (who was in a dispute with the Saudi state over alleged piracy).
The Premier League challenged the CAT’s jurisdiction, arguing that SJHL was bound to arbitrate any such dispute and also seeking a stay in favour of a separate arbitration between NUFC and the Premier League that raised overlapping but different issues.
On 7 October 2021, a week after the hearing in the CAT and before judgment was handed down, the Premier League approved the sale of NUFC to the Consortium. The change of position followed the provision of certain assurances concerning the relationship between the Saudi Arabian state and PIF. The parties have written to the CAT and withdrawn the claim by consent.
The hearing was widely reported in the press:
Daniel Jowell QC and Tim Johnston acted for SJHL, instructed by Reynolds Porter Chamberlain.