The Premier League has confirmed that Gary Hoffman is to step down as its chair. The move stems from the controversy over the Saudi-led takeover of Newcastle United and Hoffman will leave at the end of January.
He has been in the job for only 18 months but was the subject of an unofficial vote of confidence by Premier League chairmen last week, with more than half calling for his removal.
“It has been a privilege to lead the Premier League through the last two seasons – when the spirit of English football has been more important than ever,” Hoffman said. “Now, I have decided the time is right for me to stand aside to allow new leadership to steer the league through its next exciting phase.”
Hoffman has become the focus of clubs’ fury over the way the Newcastle deal was approved. Clubs complained they had not been properly consulted over a decision to allow the Saudi sovereign wealth fund to buy the club, having been notified of the outcome by email and only after reports had been published in the media.
The 61-year-old wrote the emails and the messages were seen by clubs – particularly those outside the top six – to have been a “final straw” for their trust in the chair. A highly respected banker who ran Northern Rock after it was nationalised during the financial crisis, Hoffman’s role at the Premier League is in a non-executive capacity. However, his short tenure has not only coincided with Covid but with the aborted breakaway plans of Project Big Picture and the European Super League, plots which incensed many of the same clubs that eventually wanted him out.
While Richard Masters, the league’s chief executive, is still believed to hold the confidence of most club owners, Hoffman became the object of intense ire at an emergency Premier League board meeting last month and pressure was put on him to stand down. Last week club owners met again informally and held a vote of no confidence in Hoffman which the chair, unknown to him, failed.
The league thanked Hoffman for his service and said: “He has led the league during the most challenging period in its history and leaves it in a stronger position than ever. The process of appointing a new chair will begin immediately.”
The opposition to the Newcastle takeover was demonstrated in middle of last month when the clubs voted through temporary legislation designed to prevent the Saudis from striking lucrative sponsorship deals. Eighteen of the clubs supported the proposal to block related party transactions – commercial arrangements that involve pre-existing business relationships – with the fear being that Newcastle could conclude deals in the oil-rich kingdom which could give them an advantage. Manchester City abstained.
The moratorium expires at the end of the month but the clubs are to meet on 30 November to vote in a permanent rule change. It has been proposed after the discussions of a specially convened working party – which included Newcastle – that any major commercial deal will have to be pre-approved by the Premier League board, which will consider whether it involves a related party and, crucially, represents fair market value.
The board will be helped by independent assessors. The proposal was discussed at a meeting of all 20 clubs last Thursday and was supported in principal by the majority. It is being fine-tuned by lawyers and will need 14 votes to be carried, which is expected to happen.