EXC: Ex-Newcastle owner Mike Ashley wins £23m race to buy Headingley

EXCLUSIVE: Mike Ashley will buy Headingley from Yorkshire for £23m as cricket club look to clear their debts… with ex-Newcastle owner close to securing 10-year naming rights deal for the ground

  • Yorkshire have agreed to sell Headingley to Mike Ashley for £23million
  • Ashley is also close to securing a 10-year naming rights deal for the stadium
  • Yorkshire will use the £23m to pay off £15.9m debts owed to Colin Graves Trust 

Yorkshire have agreed to sell Headingley to Mike Ashley for £23million with the ex-Newcastle United owner close to securing a 10-year naming rights deal for the stadium.

Mail Sport revealed in September that Yorkshire were considering selling the iconic ground to clear debts that were threatening to send them into administration.

Now Ashley is set to see off interest from the Rajasthan Royals and former chairman Colin Graves to complete a sale and lease-back deal which will safeguard the club’s future.

Yorkshire are believed to have negotiated an option to buy back the ground that has been their home since 1891 at a fixed price as part of the sale.

The club will continue to play at Headingley as tenants of Ashley’s Frasers Group, who will charge Yorkshire around £1m a season in rent.

Yorkshire have agreed to sell Headingley to ex-Newcastle owner Mike Ashley for £23million

Yorkshire will continue to play at Headingley as tenants, playing £1m a season in rent

The historic deal is understood to include naming rights for Headingley, which Ashley will use to advertise one of Frasers’ brands, which include Sports Direct, Slazenger and Jack Wills. Headingley will remain part of the stadium’s name in a deal similar to Surrey’s for the Kia Oval and Lancashire’s for Emirates Old Trafford.

Yorkshire will use the £23m to pay off their £15.9m debt to the Colin Graves Trust, who agreed to defer a £500,000 instalment due last month, and will hope to rebuild after finishing second-bottom of the Championship’s second division this year.

The 160-year-old club have been in turmoil since being accused of institutional racism by Azeem Rafiq two years ago, a furore which cost them around £3.5m in legal costs and compensation payments, with last year’s accounts showing losses of £2.2m.

Yorkshire rejected several offers to buy the club outright to pursue the deal with Ashley because they were determined to remain in the control of their members.

The deal may still prove controversial, however, with Yorkshire icon Geoffrey Boycott outlining his strong opposition last month.

‘Everybody in Newcastle hates (Ashley),’ said the former England batsman, 83. ‘That doesn’t sound good for Yorkshire cricket. I don’t want to be leasing back Headingley, why the hell do I? If you try to sell and lease back, I’m telling you there will be trouble.’

The iconic ground hosted the third Ashes Test between England and Australia this summer

Yorkshire will retain control of the Headingley shop and other retail and commercial elements, with Frasers limited to stadium naming rights.

The proposed deal has yet to be signed off by the ECB, but they are unlikely to object.

Ashley already owns the Coventry Building Society Arena, home to Coventry City, and is exploring buying League One club Reading, which could delay the completion of the Yorkshire deal. But both parties are hopeful it can be finalised later this month. 

Yorkshire declined to comment.

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