Merritt Paulson and Peregrine Sports are in the final stages of shifting ownership to the Bhathal family, led by Lisa Bhathal Merage, who The Athletic reports will represent the Thorns on the NWSL board of governors should the transaction go through as expected. Bhathal Merage leads the prospective ownership group alongside her brother, Alex Bhathal, who will reportedly serve as the club’s alternate governor.
Sportico first reported that the Bhathals, investors in the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, were in exclusive talks to acquire the three-time NWSL champions.
Raj Bhathal emigrated to the U.S. from India in 1960 and, along with his wife Marta, founded a swimsuit maker called Raj Manufacturing in 1967 in Southern California. Their children, Alex and Lisa, conducted a private equity buyout of their parents’ company in 2006 and launched Raj Capital Managing Partners. That buyout included investment from other partners including Goldman Sachs — where Paulson’s father, Hank, once served as CEO.
The Bhathals, through their investment firm, have invested a significant sum — estimated at upwards of $1 billion — in the Kings and their new arena. The Athletic reports the Bhathals aim to invest in a new training facility for the Thorns and will make sure the team continues playing at Providence Park.
Final steps have yet to be taken, but all signs point to the Bhathals taking the reins in the Rose City as they aim to pick up the pieces from years of scandal under Paulson’s leadership.
A massive transition is set to take place as the Thorns cleave themselves off of the Peregrine soccer empire, and it seems likely to run into the Thorns’ 2024 schedule. The Athletic reports the Bhathals are committed to keeping the Thorns in Portland, having presented their bid to the NWSL board of governors in New York earlier this week, and “existing staff across Peregrine and the Portland club will support the transition to new ownership” in the months following the sale’s eventual close.
That staff includes Thorns general manager Karina LeBlanc, who The Athletic reports will immediately shift to the new business entity alongside the team’s sporting and technical staff. Front office operations, The Athletic reports, are expected to be handled by an office put together by the Bhathals in the coming months.
It is unclear what the final sale price will be, although Sportico values the Thorns at $65 million.
A spokesperson for the Thorns, reached Friday morning by The Oregonian/OregonLive prior to The Athletic’s article publishing, maintained there was no update on the sale process.
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