Vaughan Millette, American entrepreneur, takes principal ownership of Sheffield Sharks and Sheffield Hatters

Sheffield Sharks and Sheffield Hatters have been taken over by an American businessman, ending decades-long stewardship by local people and ushering the two basketball clubs into a new, previously uncharted, era.

Vaughn Millette, an American entrepreneur based in New York with experience across finance, energy and live entertainment, is the new principal owner of both the men’s and women’s clubs after acquiring a controlling interest.

Despite the change in ownership structure, the day-to-day running of the club will continue as before with Sarah Backovic becoming CEO of the two clubs and head coaches Atiba Lyons of the Sharks and Vanessa Ellis of the Hatters awarded new long-term contracts.

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Yuri Matischen, who founded the team in 1991 before rebranding them as the Sharks and overseeing great success in the late 1990s, will remain as a director.

Changing times: RJ Eytle-Rock in play-off action for Sheffield Sharks who have been taken over by an American entrepreneur.Changing times: RJ Eytle-Rock in play-off action for Sheffield Sharks who have been taken over by an American entrepreneur.
Changing times: RJ Eytle-Rock in play-off action for Sheffield Sharks who have been taken over by an American entrepreneur.

According to Companies House, Millette has taken a 65% stake in the club, with remaining directors Matischen, Backovic, Lyons and John Timms having 7% each.

The news flies in the face of the current financial crisis engulfing British basketball.

As it stands, it is not known what league Sharks will be a part of when the new season is scheduled to start in September.

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Three weeks ago, the British Basketball League’s operating company had its licence terminated by the British Basketball Federation following concerns over its financial position, and no solution has yet been found to how or who will operate the league next season.

Sheffield Sharks have been the subject of a takeover by an American entrepreneur (Picture: Adam Bates)Sheffield Sharks have been the subject of a takeover by an American entrepreneur (Picture: Adam Bates)
Sheffield Sharks have been the subject of a takeover by an American entrepreneur (Picture: Adam Bates)

The licence was revoked because 777 Partners, the American investment firm that bought a 45 per cent stake in the league in December 2021 and put £7m in, is facing a lawsuit for fraud in America which has led to the freezing of its assets. The BLL has entered into creditor arrangements with two of its largest creditors. The women’s league, which includes the Hatters who the Sharks acquired recently, is unaffected.

None of this uncertainty appears to have put off Millette in buying into British basketball, or the Sharks for placing their future in the hands of external investors.

Both the Sharks and Hatters have experienced a year of unprecedented growth having moved into the £14m privately funded Canon Medical Arena last October after years of trying to get an arena of their own.

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That building in Attercliffe, allied with the growth in profile of the league in North America through television contracts, is believed to have made the Sharks ripe for investment. It is understood discussions with Millette, who is in his 40s, have been ongoing for some months.

Millette is said to want to break into sports ownership.

He said: “I am thrilled to be partnering with Sarah, Yuri, Atiba and Vanessa to continue building on all their successes.

"These teams are much more than the competitions, they are an important part of the community and offer a vehicle through which young people can benefit in many ways.

“Of course, they are both steeped in a winning culture and my goal is to ensure that we compete for the top spots in all our competitions.”

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Backovic said: “We are thrilled to welcome Vaughn as the new principal owner of the club, he brings a wealth of business experience and basketball knowledge that will only serve to improve across performance and growth.

“We are looking forward to a positive future building on a successful programme.”

Sharks haven’t won a trophy since 2016 and have been left behind financially by some of their rivals. They have long-term ambitions to play in European competition.