THE Newcastle Jets are set to be sold to a Sydney businessman with a passion for football, but the multi-million dollar purchase comes with an ironclad condition - the A-League club must remain in the city.
Jets chief executive Lawrie McKinna confirmed on Sunday that a "term sheet" had been exchanged between current owner Martin Lee and the prospective buyer.
"It has been finalised from Martin's side. Now it has been given to their lawyers to go through," said McKinna, who confirmed talks between the two parties had been ongoing since February.
Asked when he expected the sale to be finalised, McKinna said: "It's more likely to be weeks than months. It will be as long as it takes for the documents to go through.
"Then it goes to Football Federation Australia (FFA) for approval. All being well, I'm confident it would be done before the start of next season."
McKinna declined to divulge the sale price - or the identity of the businessman - but it's believed to be well in excess of the $5.5 million Lee paid for the club in 2015.
"He is a businessman and a football guy," McKinna said about the prospective owner.
"He believes in the region and he believes in what the city and the club can do.
"I can assure everybody the club will not be moving anywhere. It is the Newcastle Jets for a reason.
"I first spoke to him before the pandemic and he has hung in there all the way through it.
"He believes in the vision of the club, what we want to do in the area and what we want to do in the A-League."
McKinna, who has previously held talks with groups from Russia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, the UK and the US, said the sale would involve an up-front payment followed by several installments over a set time frame.
Lee has poured $15 million into the Jets since taking ownership from the FFA.
The Jets made the grand final in the second year of his ownership and were on track to achieve a goal of qualifying for the Asian Champions League within three years.
However, Lee's wealth has taken a major hit in the past 18 months. Trade tariffs between the United States and China have impacted heavily on his LED lighting company.
The Chinese government has also put in place restrictions on money being transferred out of the country.
After shutting down his Chinese club Ledman Shenzen, Lee knocked back an offer of $12 million for the Jets in 2019 and has since significantly reduced his funding of the club.
"That was over a year ago," McKinna said. "He was looking for $15m and we had people interested and then the virus came along and changed things a bit."
McKinna said the announcement on Friday of a new broadcast deal with Foxtel to televise the A-League had been a positive.
"Talks were progressing well anyway, but there is definitely a lot more security with a new broadcast deal in place," McKinna said. "It was a real positive."
The Jets have around $2 million in operational debts to clear and McKinna said any shortfall would be taken into account as part of the sale.
"The club would come debt free," McKinna said. "Whatever the settlements is, that money would pay the debts.
"In the talks I have had with the prospective owner about moving forward with the club, he is wanting to invest. He is impressed with what the new coaching staff has done in the short time they have been in.
"He has spoken to Carl [Robinson] a couple of times on the phone. He wants to see a successful team. He will leave the football to the football people, but he will have a presence. He will be at the games. He has even been looking at houses in Newcastle."