Gillett pondering sale of Liverpool shares

OTTAWA - U.S. businessman George Gillett is considering the sale of his sporting assets including Premier League club Liverpool and the Montreal Canadiens, a senior executive at the NHL team said on Monday. "The Gillett family has retained the services of financial advisors in order to assess various strategic alternatives to optimize the value of its corporate assets," communications vice-president Donald Beauchamp told Reuters.

He confirmed a story in the French-language daily La Presse which said Gillett had hired a total of four financial firms in Europe, the United States and Canada to look at all Gillett's properties, including Liverpool.

In Canada, financial company BMO Capital Markets will examine the future of the Canadiens, the Montreal Bell Centre where the team plays and the Gillett Entertainment Group.

Canadiens president Pierre Boivin told the newspaper that the decision was linked to the economic crisis and what he said was the unwillingness of banks to finance even very good projects.

"We're talking about a very large range of firms and assets which are good companies. There is Liverpool, NASCAR, the Canadiens and the Bell Centre," Boivin said. Beauchamp confirmed that the quotes were accurate.


Boivin told La Presse there was a range of possible outcomes for Gillett's holdings.

"This could involve refinancing, this could involve the arrival of new investors or -- purely and simply -- the sale of certain assets," he said, stressing that the process of studying what could be done had only just started.

There has been speculation for months that Gillett was looking to sell the Canadiens. He denied that this was the case in December.

Gillett owns 80.1 percent of the Canadiens and 50 percent of five-times European champions Liverpool.

Gillett and co-owner Tom Hicks have endured a stormy relationship since taking control of Liverpool for 218.9 million pounds ($319.2 million) in February 2007.

Neither man wants to sell his stake to the other. Last year Gillett said he was prepared to sell his holding to Dubai International Capital but a proposed deal fell through.

A spokeswoman for BMO Capital Markets confirmed the firm had been retained by Gillett but gave no further details. Both she and Beauchamp said they did not know which European and U.S. firms were also acting for the businessman.

The Canadiens are one of Canada's best-known and successful hockey teams and are celebrating their 100th anniversary this year.

Any move to sell the team and base it somewhere else would undoubtedly trigger huge protests from the Canadiens' passionate fans.

One potential bidder could be Jim Balsillie, the billionaire founder of high-tech firm Research in Motion. Last year he failed in a bid to buy the struggling Nashville Predators and move them to Hamilton in southern Ontario.