The ambitious plans laid out for Rochdale AFC by new shareholders Dan Altman and Emre Marcelli look to have been put on hold as the pair have turned tight-lipped on how their investment proposition is progressing.
As exclusively revealed in June, former Rochdale chairman Chris Dunphy, along with former director Bill Goodwin and a representative of former director the late Paul Hazlehurst, sold his shares privately to Altman and Marcelli, managers of investment group NYK Capital Management LLC.
Upon being contacted by this writer, Altman was very open about his purchase and issued a statement outlining his grand vision for the League One club, which involved attaining Championship football.
However, during a routine follow up to see how his planned route to investment funds was progressing –at a time when football’s finances are being strangled by the global pandemic –Altman declined numerous invitations from this writer to reassure supporters.
Altman, who is behind the SmarterScout player analysis software, initially said his primary aim was to guarantee the club’s long-term financial stability and success on the pitch.
“We are not billionaires, nor are we fronting for one,” he said. “Rather, we believe that with some prudent investments and carefully attentive management, the club can grow in a sustainable way.”
Altman said in June that his group had proposed an initial investment, principally for these purposes:
- a permanent training ground to include facilities for the academy
- replacement of the pitch at the Crown Oil Arena
- a full-time sporting director
- funds to bolster the squad
- additional commercial staff
He added: “Together with the implementation of our analytical tools and the resources of our global network in professional football, we hope that these investments might equip the club to rise up the table in League One and eventually compete for a place in the Championship.”
Despite not yet investing financially in Rochdale AFC, it is believed that Altman had allowed the club to use his SmarterScout software free of charge for a short period. This arrangement is now understood to have ceased, however.
With so much uncertainty surrounding football and its finances at present, there is a genuine concern that Altman and Marcelli may seek to sell their shares on – and possibly not to somebody currently affiliated to the club.
The combined shares purchased by the Americans equal around 15% of those currently issued by Rochdale AFC, and Altman’s statement of ambition back in June prompted a response from director Andrew Kelly, who, via the club’s official website, said he feared an “attempt at a Glazer Manchester United style takeover bid”.
Kelly revealed that he and the board had too been in negotiations with Altman with regards to direct investment, but declined his proposal as it was “not acceptable”.
Kelly outlined that Altman wanted 51% of the club and the promise of what is contained in the above statement.
“The loan agreements and their repayment conditions, along with a potential exit agreement, were not acceptable,” Kelly said. “Had we accepted their offer, we would, in my opinion, have been ridiculed for giving the club away.”
Kelly, fearing Altman would attempt to buy up other shares privately, said he tested the water by offering his own shares to the American in a bid to see how much he was prepared to pay.
The response from Altman was as follows:“Emre and I have today placed negotiations with the Board on hold since we are far apart on a price for the authorised shares. As such we are not increasing our investment right now. If, however, we are in a position to go forward in the future, we will likely to make an offer to the club’s significant shareholders, naturally including yourself.”
Kelly said: “This reply left me very unsure about their future strategy or intentions. I scoured the shareholder list to try to establish where the club may be vulnerable. As a result of my actions, I purchased Leods Construction shares (22,500). I am now the second largest individual shareholder in the club, owning approximately 12% (58,250). Our Chairman has 110,000 shares (approximately 22%).”
He added: “Any future share issue will dilute their voting power. We need to be 100% clear that reducing it does not allow an influx of money today which could signal problems for future fans. My ambition is very simple, when I leave the club, I want it to be a better state than when I joined, and I look forward to a continued long-term existence in the Football League.
“In conclusion, let me make it clear, my shares are NOT FOR SALE.”
However, Chris Dunphy still believes Altman was the right man to sell his shares to. He had previously met the American when he was exploring investment opportunities while in post as chairman.
He said: “Some years earlier, Dan had contacted the club about potential investment, which was put to the board. At that time, however, we decided not to go ahead as we were already in discussion with developers regarding the Bowlee site. There was no figure put forward. Dan and Emre were more concerned about the team and how their analytics would benefit the club, so we did not get as far as discussing money. However, I did speak to a representative of Swansea City about them, where they had worked previously, and did not receive an adverse reaction.
“When I stepped down as chairman, I approached Dan and asked if he was still interested in buying shares in the club. I believed, and still do, that he would be good for the football club.”
He added: “I had been on the board for more than 30 years and every application for share transfer came before the board and new share certificates were signed by a board member.
“Even shares that had belonged to a deceased relative could not be passed to another without board approval. If the board did not agree with a proposed transfer, they were at liberty to reject it and purchase the shares for the club. I do not know how the board chose to deal with share transfers once I left.”