Jim O’Toole’s consortium has been selected by Worcester’s administrators Begbies Traynor as their preferred bidder for the demoted Premiership team. O’Toole previously served as chief executive of the Warriors.
O’Toole and business partner James Sandford, supported by US investment, have exclusivity ahead of other proposals, including one from former Warriors general manager Steve Diamond.
The group is known as Atlas Worcester Warriors Rugby Club Ltd, according to Julie Palmer who has led the Begbies Traynor team at Sixways for the past five weeks.
“The preferred bidder arrangement gives them a period of exclusivity to deliver a final transaction to save the rugby club – and is a deal over the whole suite of the assets, effectively.” She explained.
Warriors played their last game in round 3 when they beat Newcastle 39-5, and unclear when they will play again even if saved.
A huge deposit to be paid
Julie Palmer explained that key parts of the transaction need to be understood. A lot of work has been completed in terms of the rugby creditors which is why it has taken a longer period to get to this stage.
However, she felt that the overall deal was best for the creditors. The bidders were fully aware of how Worcester’s rugby program will develop in the future. Additionally, they made a significant financial commitment to the deal by paying a large deposit in order to receive preferred bidder status.
She further stated that it’s crucial because they still have to work under certain tight deadlines with the RFU and Premiership Rugby to comprehend the structure of the league for the upcoming season. They didn’t want to waste time in conversations with someone who wouldn’t move forward with their proposal.
In addition to the club facing a winding-up petition from HM Revenue and Customs, who are owed more than £6 million, which had been owned by businessmen Jason Whittingham and Colin Goldring since December 2018, also had a long list of other creditors and still had £15 million in Covid sports survival package payments to make to the government.
O’Toole and Sandford described in their statement that this process was a major and positive step in the right direction. Their focus has always been on retaining an elite level rugby club, built on a workable long-term strategic business model at Six ways, for the benefit of Worcestershire’s community and the rugby game as a whole.
The process will continue to be difficult, require strict secrecy, and demand all of their focus until it is finished. Also, they stated that they won’t make any more comments until the formal, exclusive process is over.
“There were more than two bids,” Palmer stated. “And I won’t be pressed any further on what the exact number was.”
O’Toole’s time in Worcester
O’Toole arrived in Worcester in 2015 to work with former owners Sixways Holding Limited, led by Greg Allen, who had succeeded renowned club benefactor Cecil Duckworth in 2013.
O’Toole has spent the last five years working as a sports consultant, still located in Worcester, with customers in the UK and abroad since leaving Sixways in 2017.
On August 23, when the troubled club was still in the early stages of negotiations with HM Revenue & Customs over an unpaid tax bill, he first declared his intention to purchase it. At the time, he was hoping to rush through a deal that would prevent the club from going into administration and having their entire season abandoned.
The club were suspended and relegated to the Championship after Whittingham and Goldring’s operation that owned the ground, WRFC Trading Ltd, was put into administration. 34 days before O’Toole made his first public move.
Then, ten days later, the Royal Courts of Justice in London dissolved WRFC Players Ltd, the company through which the players and personnel were paid, and the contracts of practically all the backroom staff were terminated.
While 20 players have already left and joined new teams, the remaining members of the squad have continued to have access to Sixways for training and fitness over the previous month.