Ipswich Town are under new ownership after a US-backed consortium Gamechanger 20 Ltd completed a £30m deal to acquire the club from long-standing owner Marcus Evans. Evans assumed the Portman Road helm in 2007, purchasing the debt-ridden club that had fallen on hard times after relegation from the Premier League in 2002. Despite a string of high-profile managerial appointments and splashing the cash on overpriced transfers in the first half of his reign, Evans soon turned the funding tap off and the club has been allowed to drift into obscurity after losing in the 2014/15 Championship playoffs to bitter rivals Norwich.
In Evans’ closing statement upon announcing the takeover, he admitted his ambition to relinquish the reins at Portman Road by leaving the club in a “secure financial position”. He described the incoming US consortium as having “triple A financial backing” and a “community ethos”, both things that the Tractor Boys have lacked lately.
The who’s who of Gamechanger 20 Ltd
The majority shareholder of Gamechanger 20 Ltd is a large US pension fund – thought to be the Arizona fire and police pension fund – managed by ORG who have a 90% shareholding in the club. The remaining 10% is shared by American board members Brett Johnson, Berke Bakay and Mark Detmer. It’s a sign of the confidence in this US consortium that former owner Marcus Evans has also sought to retain a 5% stake in Gamechanger 20.
Messrs Johnson, Bakay and Detmer have overseen the development of USL soccer franchise Phoenix Rising, who are well-placed to become one of the next MLS expansion franchises in the coming years. They also have a string of investments elsewhere in US soccer, including USL League One side FC Tucson and a major development project in Rhode Island.
Brett Johnson appears to be the voice of the US-based trio and joined the club’s first press conference post-takeover sporting Ipswich Town “swag”. Johnson said on behalf of his fellow partners that they are “humbled and excited” to invest in the club, describing the Suffolk side as “one of the finest clubs in the history” of the English game. Indeed Town have developed two former England managers through the decades and are part of a select band of English clubs to have won a European trophy in 1981.
Given their American locale, the club will have new day-to-day oversight from a newly appointed chairman Mike O’Leary. The 68-year-old, who has been on the board at West Bromwich Albion and Oxford United in the past, will also be joined by a new CEO that is yet to be appointed. Bristol City’s current chief executive Mark Ashton has been touted as the likely candidate, although this appointment may not be made until the end of the 2020/21 campaign.
Will the takeover transform Ipswich’s on-field fortunes?
On the pitch, Ipswich have flattered to deceive in EFL League One for the second successive season. It’s been a similar tale to 2019/20, with the Tractor Boys getting off to a barnstorming start at the top of the table before steadily falling out of the top six picture. This proved the undoing of former boss Paul Lambert. The Scotsman blamed the fixture congestion that’s plagued all professional leagues in the last 12 months and the club’s lengthy injury list for the team’s demise. His sacking was one of the last acts from Town’s now-former owner Marcus Evans.
Evans appointed former Wigan Athletic and Portsmouth boss Paul Cook on a two-and-a-half-year deal. Cook is a serial winner at League One and League Two level and was doing a remarkable job at Wigan in the EFL Championship prior to the Latics’ unforeseen ownership crisis. Town’s new chairman Mike O’Leary confirmed during his first press conference that Cook was also at the top of the US consortium’s list of managerial candidates at the time of Lambert’s sacking, making Cook a sensible choice with the 14-month-long takeover close to fruition last month.
There is still a chance that Cook and the Tractor Boys could secure a League One playoff place and clinch promotion back to the second tier this season. The Suffolk side certainly have a kind run-in, facing many sides in the lower reaches of League One between now and May. However, the consensus among the Ipswich faithful is that this squad needs a major overhaul to rid it of the hallmarks of Championship relegation in 2019. It’s clear that the club’s new American owners are committed to investing to restore Town’s Championship status at the earliest opportunity.