This year, the Senegalese winger Krepin Diatta moved from Club Bruges to France’s AS Monaco for almost 17 million euros.

Photographer: Dean Mouhtaropoulos / Getty Images

Photographer: Dean Mouhtaropoulos / Getty Images

Club Bruges is close to joining a select group of listed European football teams and is offering investors the opportunity to support its promise to discover the next stars of the game.

According to a Wednesday prospectus, the leaders of the top Belgian division will go public on or around March 26th via an initial public offering in Brussels. Grizzly Sports NV, a group of investors led by Chairman Bart Verhaeghe, will sell at least 30% of Club Brugge for € 17.50 to € 22.50 per share, which is a mid-market value of € 229 million ($ 272 million) .

Verhaeghe believes that a model to nurture young talent and sell them to the teams in Europe’s biggest leagues, where players are often bought in for staggering sums, will play an important role in attracting investors.

“We make stars,” said Verhaeghe, who almost turned pro at 18 only to be steered into law school by his father. “Other teams consume stars.”

Club Bruges takes a data-driven approach to identify and develop young players. Regular participation in elite European competitions, including the UEFA Champions League, also helps attract youngsters and then gives them a showcase to show off their skills to potential applicants.

In 2019 Club Bruges sold Brazilian striker Wesley Moraes and Zimbabwean midfielder Marvelous Nakamba to British Aston Villa FC. This year, the Senegalese winger Krepin Diatta moved from Club Bruges to France’s AS Monaco for almost 17 million euros. The club’s newest hot prospect is Belgian youngster Charles De Ketelaere.

“We have a unique opportunity to make players the best version of themselves and we dominate the local market,” said Verhaeghe. “We train this talent and if they do well they can move up to one of the top five leagues in Europe.”

Listed European soccer teams follow the broader stock market

The Belgian club will list shares in the public markets along with a small number of European football teams including AFC Ajax, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus FC and Manchester United FC. According to Bloomberg, the sector has lagged broader European stocks over the past three years. An index of the German soccer team for European soccer teams was closed last summer due to a lack of interest.

“This is a club that is going public where we want to make a profit,” said Verhaeghe. “I would like to list as a company in a growing market, but unfortunately some of my colleagues don’t do things the same way.”

Club Bruges saw net profit Increase in operating profit from 120 million euros in the year to June 2020 by 148% to 24 million euros according to the IPO prospectus.

However, the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 crisis on football’s finances has dampened the market for buying and selling players, and even big donors like Manchester City FC and Real Madrid are wary of the final transfer windows. Club Bruges said its financial performance was “resilient” in the face of the pandemic. Half of the club’s 24,300 season ticket holders have not applied for a refund despite months of non-participation in games, Verhaeghe said.

The club is planning to move to a new stadium with 40,000 seats. “It will be like driving from a Lada to Mercedes,” said Verhaeghe.

Grizzly Sports remains the largest shareholder in Club Brugge after the IPO, and Verhaeghe will retain his role as chairman, according to the prospectus. Credit Suisse Group AG, JP Morgan Chase & Co., Berenberg and Belfius Bank are working on the listing.

((Adds details and quotes about the new stadium in the penultimate paragraph. An earlier version of this story corrected the number of Club Brugge season ticket subscribers.)

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