Soccer Web boss kicks fortune into the Net

Sports Internet buys Planetfootball for £24m

Planet Online founder Peter Wilkinson has hit paydirt for the second time by selling Planetfootball for £24 million. The buyer Sports Internet Limited is cock-a-hoop, pointing out that it is paying only £50 per Planetfootball punter, compared with the £1,000-plus per customer that Dixon's FreeServe is worth -- supposedly. This bargain is strictly relative, making financial sense only in Internet terms. Planetfootball had sales of only £99,000 and made an operating loss of £453,000 for the year to March end. According to Wilkinson, Planetfootball.com is now ready for the revenue generating stage, and it is nicely positioned as a player in the world's most popular and lucrative sport, so maybe we should reserve judgement. But right now the company looks awfully expensive. Planetfootball designs and hosts web sites for 20 football clubs, including more than half the UK Premier League teams. Collectively, the web sites generate 13 million page impressions from 500,000 visitors per month. To put this in perspective, this is smaller than -- say -- Tom's Hardware Guide manages all by itself. More importantly, Tom's Hardware Guide is master of its own destiny, while Planetfootball's customers could always peel away to other web designers. Sports Internet Ltd is an energetic Internet sports, betting and gaming group run by Chris Akers, the former Leeds Sporting CEO. The AIM-listed company is making full use of corporate finance techniques to grow quickly. This time around, it is issuing 15 million new shares at 160p per share to pay for the deal. The company is also raising £4.7 million cash through a rights issue, taking its money pile up to £5.5 million. So Wilkinson's new fortune is paper-based. Post completion, he will join Sports Internet as executive deputy chairman, a made-up job title if ever there was one. We wonder, if hs he parting with some cash as part of the deal -- he could certainly afford to. Wilkinson kept onto Planetfootball, when he sold ISP Planet Online last year to Energis for £75 million in hard cash. His stake in that company was worth £22 million - his backer, the rabid anti-European entrepreneur Paul Sykes picked up the lion's share that time. The inference we draw from the release accompanying the sale of Planetfootball is that Wilkinson owns -- or owned -- all of this company. Apparently he was also the "architect of Freeserve", launched by Dixons with Energis in September 1998. ®

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