Who is Bill Foley? And why does he want to buy Bournemouth?

After 11 years of Maxim Demin, Bournemouth are on course for a new era of ownership.

American billionaire Bill Foley, the majority owner of the National Hockey League’s (NHL) Vegas Golden Knights, is heading a consortium now in exclusive talks to buy the Premier League club.

But who is Foley? What type of an owner is he? And what on earth does someone with a team in Las Vegas want with little old Bournemouth?

Allow The Athletic to answer all those burning questions and more…

Who is Bill Foley?

Foley is best known for bringing the first major professional sports franchise to Las Vegas when the Golden Knights were established as an expansion team in 2017.

After graduating from the United States Military Academy, Foley negotiated million-dollar defence contracts with Boeing as a second lieutenant in the US Air Force before moving into corporate law in the 1970s. He then acquired and revamped the then-struggling insurance firm Fidelity National Financial, where he is still chairman of the board of directors.

Now 77, the Texas native owns, runs and invests in a number of companies across the US, from insurance and data analysis to wineries and golf courses.

Foley at a Golden Knights Fan Fest in Las Vegas in 2018 (Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

What type of owner is he?

Foley is known to be a fiercely ambitious owner. In the NHL, the annual salary cap is $81.5million (£71.4m), which means teams are only allowed to spend money on player wages within that limit. But Foley has spent the absolute maximum amount the league permits, acquiring high-price players on big contracts in a bid to make the fledgling Golden Knights as competitive as possible immediately against teams who had already existed for decades.

At times, the team also placed players on long-term injury reserve to exploit loopholes that allow them to spend even more money. Foley’s commitment to putting the best players on the ice has been clear for all to see.

But there are some downsides to Foley’s aggressive methods as his patience levels do not seem very high. The Golden Knights have fired two promising head coaches, Gerard Gallant and Peter DeBoer, in their five seasons of existence although the third, Bruce Cassidy, is highly respected in the sport.

Few, though, can question the level of Foley’s investment. There is a strong feeling among some of those close to him that he will not come into Bournemouth trying to cut costs to make a profit.

Foley lives in Las Vegas, so he is unlikely to be as hands-on with Bournemouth as he has been with the Golden Knights. But he is a very visible figure.


Foley meets fans before the 2017 NHL Awards (Photo: Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Not only does he attend every Golden Knights game, he is at training virtually every day. Foley even had his own viewing area built just above their home rink, from where he and general manager Kelly McCrimmon observe these practice sessions. He also makes the effort of going into the changing room after most games and talking to the players.

Does he fit with Bournemouth?

A sale to Foley would mean the majority of the Premier League’s current 20 clubs are fully or partly owned by Americans — a development that has been both lauded and criticised in some quarters. But Foley has dealt with a similar kind of gatekeeping before.

Only seven of the NHL’s 32 teams are based in Canada, where the league was founded in 1917. The rest are in the US. And a sizeable faction of Canadian-supporting hockey fans and pundits are far from thrilled with the idea that Americans know more about a sport they were responsible for modernising and popularising.

When the Golden Knights entered the league and started winning straight away — they got to the Stanley Cup Final, the best-of-seven series which decides each season’s NHL champions, in their very first season — those Canadian markets were more upset than anyone else.

Las Vegas is a warm-weather city, literally in a desert, with temperatures that reach 41C (106F) and palm trees on its streets. Canadians grow up playing ice hockey outdoors on frozen ponds. There was a feeling that initial long-term suffering was a necessary part of paying one’s dues as an expansion team and the fact that Foley’s men virtually skipped that step rubbed many up the wrong way.

So, in a sense, he is relatively well-equipped to deal with English football’s scrutiny of US ownership.

But for Bournemouth fans who are not keen on their club having a new American owner, be prepared for a businessman who appears to embrace the glitz of the city he lives in.

Before each Golden Knights home game, there is a grandiose introduction where the starting line-ups are announced with a smoke show and a pre-recorded video played on the arena’s big screen.

On one occasion, Foley wanted to be part of the pre-game show and was filmed dressed in full army equipment and flying a helicopter with triumphant music blaring in the background.

To say this is a stark contrast to Demin would be an understatement.

The Russian-born businessman does not attend games and has made just two public statements in his 11 years as Bournemouth owner, both off the back of high-profile managerial dismissals. Adjusting to Foley’s bombastic character could be quite the culture shock.

Who are the Golden Knights?

Not so long ago, there were 30 NHL teams.

The Golden Knights became the 31st for the 2017-18 season, but first Black Knight Sports and Entertainment — a consortium in which Foley is the lead investor — had to prove there was enough supporter interest in the gambling and tourist mecca of Las Vegas to make placing an expansion team there work.

Foley and his business partners ran promotions where they tried to persuade people to commit to buying season tickets for a team that did not yet exist. The result? Over 14,000 deposits for season tickets, as well as selling all of the luxury seats in the 17,500-capacity T-Mobile Arena.

What makes this feat even more impressive is that, before the Golden Knights, there was no major professional sports team in Las Vegas.

Owing to the focus on gambling in the city, there were fears about the practicalities of running a major sports franchise there, and the leagues wanted nothing to do with the place. But Foley saw this as an opportunity to give Las Vegas a chance, rather than a deterrent — and it has worked out very well.

The Golden Knights have sold out every home game, and in the wake of Foley’s initial success, the NFL’s Raiders moved from Oakland in California to Vegas two years ago. There is also a team in the WNBA, top-flight women’s basketball, with the San Antonio Stars coming to town in 2018 and renaming themselves the Las Vegas Aces. They won the WNBA at the weekend, beating Connecticut Sun 3-1 in a best-of-five series.

The NBA is also now looking to expand with LeBron James, the biggest name in basketball around the world, stating his interest in owning a franchise in Vegas.

So, in many ways, what Foley has done is bigger than just ice hockey: he showed the world that Las Vegas is a sports town for events other than boxing and UFC, and it seems others are starting to follow suit.

How successful has Foley been with the Golden Knights?

Given the team only came into existence in 2017, Foley had an immensely difficult job on his hands, but he and his staff have turned the Golden Knights into one of the best expansion teams in the history of US sport.

When a new team join the NHL, the league holds an expansion draft — the new franchise gets to pick one player from every other team. Thirty teams means 30 players to make up the newcomers’ initial 23-man squad, but the draft rules allowed those existing franchises to protect their best players from being selected, so the Golden Knights had to sift through what was left.


Foley and then-general manager George McPhee of the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017 (Photo: Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

George McPhee, the Golden Knights’ general manager at the time and a man with over 20 years’ experience in the NHL, recruited well, bringing in out-of-favour players who ended up playing much better in Vegas’ colours than many expected.

But after a positive first four years that also saw them reach the semi-finals twice, the Knights have started losing more matches — and trading away their most popular players. Fan sentiment has also started to sour.

The team missed the championship play-offs for the first time in their brief history last season, which has only added to the negativity and scrutiny.

Didn’t Foley try to set up an MLS team, too?

Yes. In 2019, he was interested in bringing Major League Soccer to Vegas.

One rung below MLS on the football pyramid in the US is the United Soccer League (USL). Vegas was granted a USL expansion team, the Las Vegas Lights, to begin play in 2018. Their owner Brett Lashbrook planned to show that the people of Vegas liked football enough to convince MLS to let the Lights join the top flight.

The only issue was Foley, who ended up competing against Lashbrook in trying to establish an MLS side of his own in the city.

It is thought MLS preferred Lashbrook’s proposal over Foley’s new entrant, given the Lights were already established. Regardless, Foley has been out of the picture in terms of starting an MLS team in the city for a while with his sights firmly set on football club ownership across the pond. The Lights still play in the USL.

In June, it was announced that Foley was planning to lend Crystal Palace co-owner John Textor €523million (£458m, $522m) to purchase a majority stake in French club Lyon.

That loan could have been converted into shares, which would have given Foley a piece of the Ligue 1 side. But it now appears he has withdrawn from that agreement and is looking to buy a European club of his own instead.

Why are Bournemouth up for sale?

Demin has been trying to sell for at least four years but wants a return on his investment or, at the very least, his money back in any potential sale. According to the last set of club accounts, Demin was owed nearly £130million as of last summer, with a note to say that had increased by £20million since.

It is worth pointing out that Demin still invested another £23million via player transfers during the transfer window that closed three weeks ago.

Why would someone want to buy them?

It requires a lot of hard work and money just to keep Bournemouth at this level.

The club need to finish their new training complex, which they resumed work on in June. The imminent takeover will not have any impact on the progress that has already been made on the project.

Then there is the stadium issue.

It is thought there are plans from the would-be new owner to develop the Vitality Stadium, which is the smallest by far in the Premier League, holding just over 11,000 people.

The only possible site in the city for a bigger ground is to build on Kings Park, right next door to the current stadium, but that would require a change in UK law, as the parkland is protected by an Act of Parliament from the 1980s. There is a thought that the best-case scenario in terms of a time scale for Bournemouth to get into a new home is four to five years.


Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium is the smallest in the Premier League (Photo: Robin Jones – AFC Bournemouth/AFC Bournemouth via Getty Images)

It is also easy to see why Foley and his fellow investors are interested in the chance to become the Premier League’s latest American owners. He spent several years trying to bring MLS to Las Vegas and is no stranger to building a team from the ground up, as seen in his success with the Golden Knights.

With no manager in place after the sacking of last season’s Premier League promotion winner Scott Parker just four games into the new campaign and no big-name star players to appease, Foley will look to hit the ground running with Bournemouth, as he did with his ice-hockey team.

How much are Bournemouth worth?

Insiders believe the club are worth between £80million and £120million, depending on which division they are in, but Foley might be able to talk Demin down to a price of around £100million.

There is, however, a scarcity value issue in that Foley and his investors want a Premier League team now and Bournemouth are available. The strength of the dollar against the pound has also knocked millions off the potential price tag.

Industry experts feel clubs who flit between the top and second divisions of English football, as Bournemouth have done in recent years, will crash in value if parachute payments — the money guaranteed to clubs for the first three years after relegation from the Premier League — are to be slashed or even scrapped, as is proposed. Ditching or limiting these payments would harm Bournemouth’s ability to bounce straight back up and make the Championship a fairer contest for its clubs.

However, the club now have a window of opportunity to protect themselves against a prolonged existence outside the top flight. They must take advantage of their current Premier League status and a sale could do that. But it would also mean so-called “yo-yo clubs” are worth half the price Demin wants for them — and that is before potentially knocking more off Bournemouth’s price because of the stadium issues.

What does this mean for Bournemouth’s hunt for a new head coach?

Bournemouth are understandably reluctant to appoint anyone permanently before a takeover is completed. If this deal gets done, they will then pitch several candidates to Foley and his advisors.

When Parker was dismissed in late August, there was a reasonable assumption among Bournemouth’s hierarchy that the takeover was likely to be completed before the September international break which began on Monday. The ideal situation at that time was to appoint a new coach in conjunction with the change in ownership, but it is now clear that any appointment is likely to come weeks after Foley is confirmed as the club’s new owner.

Parker’s assistant Gary O’Neil is unbeaten in three games as interim coach, which has quelled fans’ appetite for an instant replacement, but the club would still prefer to make an external appointment for the long term. The expectation is that a head coach will be appointed well before the season is paused in mid-November for the World Cup.

But with a mid-season tournament to work around, this unique scheduling allows Bournemouth to plan in a similarly uncommon way. The January transfer window has been targeted as an opportunity to bolster their squad in a way that could not happen during the summer in the immediate aftermath of promotion.

There is a charming irony in the fact Bournemouth have achieved some on-pitch stability at a time when things are much more unsettled off the pitch.

Despite the seemingly odd fit, there is a hope that Foley’s ownership can help steer the club towards steadier waters.

 (Top photo: David Becker/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Who is Bill Foley? And why does he want to buy Bournemouth?

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