Alarm bells ring as Rich Energy founder pushes for £50m takeover deal

Thomas Maher
Rich Energy CEO William Storey, pictured in 2019 at the Monaco Grand Prix as a guest of Haas.

Rich Energy CEO William Storey, pictured in 2019 at the Monaco Grand Prix as a guest of Haas.

Rich Energy CEO William Storey may be about to begin a new foray in football, as he’s gearing up to buy Reading Football Club.

Reading FC has been linked with a £50 million sale to William Storey, the Rich Energy CEO who courted plenty of controversy during his short time in Formula 1 as the British energy drinks company became the title sponsor of the Haas F1 team.

Terms of the takeover deal between Reading and William Storey are understood to be largely agreed, following long negotiations between Storey and the club’s Chinese owner Dai Yongge, with Storey allegedly pledging to clear club debt in the sale.

Is William Storey set to assume control at Reading FC?

Storey, who was linked with failed takeover bids for Sunderland and Coventry, has pledged to take on the Reading club, their stadium, and the state-of-the-art Bearwood Park training facilities. He is also rumoured to have promised to invest in the playing staff.

According to the UK Telegraph, Storey has apparently bought the club outright, having secured funding from wealthy backers.

The transfer of the club to Storey will be scrutinised by the English Football League’s test for fit and proper owners, which will take about six weeks – although Storey could begin work as early as this week.

Reading have been actively seeking new ownership as Mr Dai’s commitment to the club has been questioned, with Storey having posted pictures of himself at their Bearwood Park facility as rumours of a takeover bid surfaced.

A fan-led protest group, ‘Sell Before We Dai’, has been present at home and away matches for the Royals, who are seeking to raise awareness of the troubles in which the embattled club find themselves.

They were relegated from the Championship, English football’s second tier, last season after a points deduction for breaching profitability and sustainability rules, and have received further points deductions this season over unpaid staff wages, with reports emerging that the club could soon go into administration.

A statement from Reading FC has firmly stated that a sale to Storey has not yet taken place, although understands he is one of the interested parties in a purchase.

“Reading Football Club would like to clarify that the process of the sale of the club is ongoing and, contrary to reports, there is currently no agreement in place with any party,” read the statement.

“Several parties have approached the club in recent weeks with declarations of interest in purchasing the club. All approaches are being assessed on their own merits to find the most suitable buyer to ensure a healthy future for the club and, at this stage, no single individual or entity has exclusivity in this process.”

William Storey’s Rich Energy F1 controversy

In 2019, Storey’s Rich Energy company became title sponsors of the Haas team, resulting in the American squad rolling out a very attractive black and gold VF-19 to reflect the colours of the energy drink.

While the first few months of the partnership passed peacefully, relations between Haas and Rich Energy became strained as a result of poor performance, as well as an off-track copyright court case between Rich Energy and British company Whyte Bikes – the cycling company taking Storey to court for copyright infringement regarding the company logo.

Judge Melissa Clark, after consideration of the case, ruled in Whyte’s favour, saying: “I am satisfied that some of Mr. Storey’s evidence was incorrect or misleading and that he was involved in the manufacture of documents during the course of litigation to provide additional support for the Defendants’ case.”

“I do not accept either Mr. Storey as a credible or reliable witness and I treat all of their evidence with a high degree of caution.”

But the situation escalated dramatically later in the summer as tweets from the Rich Energy account started making fun of the Haas team’s performance, including photoshopped images comparing the F1 cars to a milk float. In the lead-up to the British Grand Prix, a tweet from the same account then announced the termination of the title sponsorship deal between Haas and Rich Energy after less than six months together.

A Rich Energy tweet mocking Haas' F1 performance at the 2019 British Grand Prix.
A Rich Energy tweet mocking Haas' F1 performance at the 2019 British Grand Prix.

Shortly after, the drinks company issued a statement to clarify the tweet was published by a rogue employee of the company, and reiterated their commitment to Formula 1.

“The shareholders who own the majority of Rich Energy would like to clarify certain statements that have been circulated in the media from an unauthorised source,” said the statement.

“We wholeheartedly believe in the Haas F1 Team, its performance, and the organisation as a whole and we are fully committed to the current sponsorship agreement in place. We also completely believe in the product of Formula 1 and the platform it offers our brand.”

It emerged that an internal power struggle within Rich Energy was underway, with Storey and shareholder Neville Weston fighting for control – leading Storey to tweet that he had full control of Rich Energy.

“The ludicrous statement by minority shareholders cosy with Red Bull and Whyte Bikes is risible,” he said.

“Their attempted palace coup has failed. I control all of the assets of Rich Energy and have the support of all key stakeholders.”

Rich Energy Ltd. was renamed in the UK to Lightning Volt Ltd., while documents filed with Companies House revealed Storey relinquished his shares in Rich Energy to Matthew Bruce Kell, an insolvency practitioner, resuming his position of significant control later in the summer.

Regardless of whatever was going on behind the scenes at Rich Energy, Haas had enough and pulled the plug: “While enjoying substantial brand recognition and significant exposure through its title partnership of Haas F1 in 2019, a corporate restructuring process at Rich Energy will see the need for a revised global strategy.

“Subsequently, Haas F1 Team and Rich Energy concluded a termination of the existing partnership was the best way forward for both parties. Haas F1 Team would like to express its thanks and best wishes to the stakeholders at Rich Energy.”

A Rich Energy tweet revealing Haas' decision to end title partnership with the energy drinks company.
A Rich Energy tweet revealing Haas' decision to end title partnership with the energy drinks company.

There has never been any evidence that Haas received any of the £35 million sum from Rich Energy, which included an outstanding balance on the sponsorship arrangement, while the ‘Lightning Volt/Rich Energy’ company remains in liquidation through UK-based Resolve Advisory.

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