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Albion seek new investment and may sell

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West Bromwich Albion chairman Jeremy Peace is actively seeking a buyer for the club in the wake of the bumper Premier League TV deal.

Peace has launched a hunt for new investors that could lead to him selling his controlling stake in the Baggies for the right price.

Albion, which could be worth more than £40m following the new £5.14bn broadcast rights deal announced this week, has issued a document to experts in the City in a bid to sell itself as an attractive investment to British or overseas businessmen.

And while he believes an outright bid for his 76 per cent controlling stake is unlikely, Peace would consider selling if the right offer was received.

The document highlights Albion's five successive seasons in the Premier League, its rich history and its debt-free accounts as key selling points.

Peace last made a public appeal for investors in 2008 following the club's promotion to the Premier League under Tony Mowbray but he received no formal offers.

Although he initially set a deadline in 2008 for expressions of interest, he has since reiterated that the door remains open to anyone willing to make an offer for shares.

However, this latest move is his first active appeal for new investors since 2008.

Last year he launched the latest of several share buyouts which saw him increase his stake to 76 per cent.

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Alan Cleverley, secretary of the West Bromwich Albion Supporters' Club, said: "I would be very sad to see him go. He has had his critics over the years but he has kept us together, there is very little debt and in the last five years kept us in the Premier League and the training facilities here are unbelievable. I am shocked.

"I have always been pleased that we have had an English owner from the area. I wouldn't want a foreign owner to be honest. At clubs of Albion's size, foreign owners haven't done any good.

"You only have to look down the road at Birmingham City to see what happened there and the likes of Blackburn Rovers who are in a mess. If he does sell I hope it would be to a businessman from the Black Country."

The Baggies have moved quickly to react to the announcement this week of the Premier League's new £5.14bn, three-year TV deal. It represents a 70 per cent rise on the current £3bn contract for live screening of Premier League matches at home and abroad from 2016.

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Sky paid £4.17bn for five of seven packages on offer, equating to 126 live games. BT Sport spent £960m on two, which nets them 42 matches.

Albion believe that huge income rise makes Premier League clubs more attractive than ever to new investors and hope to steal a march on their rivals by making their move early.

They have contacted industry experts and asked them to spread the word that new investors would be welcomed.

Baggies sources last night admitted that the hunt for new investors could potentially flush out an outright buyer, but Peace currently believes a takeover is a long shot.

Albion's local rivals Aston Villa have been unable to find a buyer since the club was put up for sale by American owner Randy Lerner last year and Peace believes the market is unlikely to produce a wealthy buyer at present.

But he does think that the new influx of money from broadcast rights could make the club attractive to smaller investors willing to buy part of his stake or buy up other shares in exchange for injecting new cash into the club.

His last share offer valued the club at around £29m, but it would almost certainly take a higher figure to buy the club, especially after the latest money-spinning TV deal.

Seven years ago Peace acknowledged that new investment was needed to move the club to 'the next level' after he had overseen another promotion but he was unable to find any suitable partners.

Sources close to the chairman stressed last night that the appeal for new investors will not change his role at the club, where he has been a director since 2000 and chairman since 2002.

He currently attends almost every home game and many away fixtures.

Football finance expert Kieran Maguire, a member of the Football Intelligence Group at the University of Liverpool, said that Albion would be an attractive target, particularly for an overseas buyer.

"They are quasi-established in the Premier League and have a decent loyal fan base as well, but they have a reputation for getting rid of managers fairly promptly," he said. "The big issue for a buyer is whether they can prevent extra money from going into the hands of players and agents and there is potential for clubs to make money. In 2013 eight Premier clubs made losses."

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