Northampton Saints is one of the few clubs in the English Premiership that has retained a single majority shareholder since 1996.
Who Owns Northampton Saints?
Northampton Saints is owned by a Public Limited Company with a majority shareholding held by local businessman Keith Barwell.
There are a small number of significant investors who collectively own a minority shareholding in the PLC. A small percentage of shares are owned by hundreds of club members.
The Barwell family has been a major influence on the club since Keith Barwell provided investment in the early years of professionalism.
Barwell’s son Keith replaced his father as chairman in 2011 but sadly died a few short years later. Barwell’s daughter Ella Bevan is a director of the club and continues to represent the family interests.
Keith Barwell’s Business Career
Keith Barwell started his early career in the British newspaper industry in the 1960s. He first started in the telephone sales department.
The industry underwent upheaval from the mid-1960s with the introduction of free newspapers, a concept well established in the United States. The first free newspapers were largely set up by small entrepreneurs hoping to shake up the big players.
Keith Barwell joined the rush by setting up a large number of free local newspapers through the 1970s and 1980s.
Many of the small newspaper entrepreneurs didn’t succeed, because the large players simply rolled out their own freesheets as direct competitions.
However, Barwell grabbed the opportunity in 1988 to sell his newspaper chain to Thomson Corporation, one of the giants in the industry. The sales price was £20 million, making Barwell a very wealthy man.
Barwell’s other business interests
Barwell took a stake in Goodhead, one of the biggest magazine printers in the UK. The majority owner of Goodhead is John Madejski, owner of Reading Football Club.
Barwell also founded Bradden Estates Management as a family business, with his daughter Ella Bevan as a co-director. This company is involved in the grain farming industry.
Barwell Buys The Majority Holding In Northampton Saints
Keith Barwell is a longstanding Saints fan. When the amateur club raised money through selling box seats, Barwell was one of the first box holders.
When Rugby Union went professional in 1995, the big English clubs went scrambling for investors. Most were carrying some debt, and Saints was no exception.
Northampton Saints became a private limited company in 1995 with the club members as the shareholders. However, the members knew they were facing serious financial pressure.
Keith Barwell approached the club with an offer to invest £1m in return for a two-thirds shareholding. The club held an Emergency General Meeting at the Saxon Hotel in 1996. The meeting room was packed with members.
Barwell’s offer was accepted unanimously. This made Barwell the majority shareholder, with a third of the company held as shares on behalf of the club members.
Barwell’s continuing investment
As a seasoned businessman, Barwell would have known that £1m would only be the start of what the club needed to survive in the top tier of English club rugby.
Over the next few years, Barwell pumped a further £7.5m into the club. This increased his shareholding, and gradually decreased the club member’s portion.
Northampton Saints Goes Public
In 1999, Saints was a limited company with a minority 500,000 shares owned by a Members Club.
The club changed to a Public Limited Company (PLC) in 2000. The share issue included a conversion of the Members’ shares into 500,000 shares in the PLC. By this point, the members’ shareholding represented about five percent of the company.
Leon Barwell (Deceased), Family Shareholding
Leon was the son of Keith Barwell. He joined the Northampton Saints board of directors in 1999. Leon Barwell was heavily involved in the change to a PLC and in the redevelopment of the club’s stadium.
His father stepped down as Club Chairman in 2011 and Leon took over the position. Keith’s daughter Ella Bevan also joined the board as a director.
Clearly, Keith Bevan saw a long family future with the club through his highly respected son.
Unfortunately, Leon Barwell was diagnosed with cancer in his mid-forties. He died in 2013 at the age of forty-six.
Ella Bevan, Family Shareholding
Ella is the daughter of Keith Barwell. A gifted sportswoman, she continues to play and coach hockey for her local club.
As a teacher, Ella was a head of department at Northampton High School. She left her teaching role to join the Barwell family business. She became a co-director with her father in their family firm in the farming industry.
She joined the board of directors of Northampton Saints in 2012. She became heavily involved in liaising with the club supporters groups.
Northampton Saints Minority Shareholders
Northampton Saints PLC launched a further sale of shares in 2012 to small investors. The goal was to fund the development of their new stadium.
However, the major investors didn’t have to dilute their shareholding.
Instead, the original 500,000 Members Club shares were made available for general sale. Buyers were limited to a relatively small number of shares in order to attract club supporters.
Other Premiership Owners
Leicester Tigers are the traditional rivals of Northampton Saints. As both clubs are in the East Midlands, their games are proper derby affairs.
Check out our article on the ownership of Leicester Tigers.