Acun Ilicali (52) was once a sports journalist with an entry-level salary of $100. Since last week, the Turk is now the owner of the English club Hull City. How a former jeans salesman realized his childhood dream.
Cem Yilmaz is one of the funniest people in Turkey. The now 48-year-old has made standup comedy respectable in the country. His performances are invariably sold out – even internationally. What is the secret of his success, Yilmaz was once asked. He replied: "I’m not joking. I tell people what happens in life. And they laugh about it. And I tell things I laugh at myself."
So also in his current program Diamond Elite Platinum Plus. There Yilmaz tells how he raised money for Ali Koc live on TV – and caused many laughs. As a member of Turkey’s most powerful family, Koc is one of the richest men in the country. When Koc became Fenerbahce president, he launched a marathon fundraising campaign for his club to make fans aware of the club’s horrendous mountain of debt and get them involved in the consolidation process.
Many TV stars took part in various live shows and called for donations alongside Koc. One of them was Yilmaz. In his show he wondered how he got the idea to raise money for a billionaire man. And he concluded: "That was Acun. He has an incredible power of persuasion. He can convince you of anything."
Acun refers to Acun Ilicali, who organized and hosted donation shows. Over 20 million euros are said to have been collected in this way. A huge success and it was just another episode in the success story of Acun Ilicali, who blesses everything he tackles with success. Now the 52-year-old has the next project on the go: Hull City.
Hull City owner Acun Ilicali: $100 starting salary
The traditional English club announced the takeover by Ilicali last week. For a comparatively paltry sum of 24 million euros. "I am happy to have fulfilled one of my biggest dreams today", said Ilicali. The big dream was actually to buy an English soccer club, which he had been voicing on and off for years. The fact that he made it doesn’t really surprise the Ilicali connoisseurs. That he will also be successful in Hull, they simply expect.
Because Ilicali has finished playing the game of the dishwasher who makes it to millionaire and has even added a few bonus rounds to it. Ilicali was a stand-up guy early on. After a career as a jeans salesman didn’t last long, he got into sports journalism at age 20 through a friend. A TV station was looking for hard-working reporters who can speak well but don’t demand much money.
"I started for $100, that was my first salary as a reporter.", tells Ilicali. He quickly found his feet and made himself popular as a raving Fenerbahce reporter. But even then he was not looking for the approach of the classic reporter. Away from iron-clad news, toward the tabloids. Visited footballers at home, went shopping with them. It went down well in Turkey’s otherwise beer-serious soccer business.
At the 1998 World Cup, his TV station at the time sent him to France to cover the tournament. For weeks, Ilicali toured the country by car. Before Brazil’s round of 16 match against Chile, a call came from Istanbul. Friends organized a birthday party for Ilicali’s girlfriend Meryem. "You are the surprise", said a friend and asked the reporter for a short trip home. "I refused at first, but I loved my girlfriend so much that I flew to Istanbul for a day."
With "Touch me everything changed
But the TV station, which usually never demanded special circumstances for the phone-ins, this time wanted to create some atmosphere. "They told me to go to the city, pick up some Brazil fans and do the switch in their area. But I was in Istanbul and of course I couldn’t say that.", says Ilicali.
He came on the pioneering idea that he animated the party people to provide for the mood. But the whole thing backfired. When Ilicali gave them the hand signal during the switch to follow the Brazilians now, they sang a Turkish folk song. "I hid in the toilet so that the others couldn’t hear me, but I was discovered." If you look at the switch, you can also see how the presenter in the studio becomes suspicious.
But Ilicali was forgiven for the outing. However, it was no longer fulfilling just to report on soccer matches. "I wanted to do more and bugged my superiors with some project ideas." The insistence served its purpose.
He got his own broadcasts. At the first own show "Acun Firarda" he traveled the world and saw sights. The unoriginal approach nevertheless became a success because Ilicali moderated shrewdly and resonated with the young audience. 105 countries came together in the end and opened the door for further formats.
Go to Gamechanger became a TV show that translates as "Touch Me." was called. Several candidates had to touch a car with both hands. Whoever lasts the longest gets the car. The sponsor was a car manufacturer who wanted to polish up its image in Turkey and, above all, get rid of the constant confusion with Peugeot. But because the actual presenter said in his very first announcement that there was "a Peugeot to be won here" there, he flew out. Ilicali took over and stayed in show business for good.
Makers of the Turkish The Voice
But Ilicali wanted more. He pushed the TV stations he worked for to buy more show formats from abroad. "I have always put my own head on the line. I said that I would take the blame if it didn’t work out." But with each new show came success. And Ilicali’s power increased.
In 2013, he made a bold move and secured the rights to the TV channel TV8. Until then a station with a vanishingly small market share, he turned it into an entertainment channel with the best shows in the country, including the Turkish offshoot of The Voice (u.a. With Max Kruse) or Survivor, Masterchef. TV8 became the ratings king and Ilicali the TV mogul who now ruled the scene. With the best contacts in society, sports and politics, he became one of the most popular figures in the country.
But his great love always remained sport. At TV8 he organized legends tournaments, which also became ratings drivers. But there was more. First he showed a few international matches on TV8 – then he reached into the big pot: He got the expensive Champions League rights, the cost of which many TV stations could not afford due to the faltering economy in the country. Since the beginning of this season, his streaming service Exxen, where previously only specially produced series were shown, the exclusive channel for the Champions League, Europa League and Conference League.
But the dream of not only showing soccer, but also managing it, caused inner turmoil for the maker from Istanbul. A start at Fortuna Sittard in the Netherlands lasted only briefly because Ilicali did not fulfill the project.
It should be one size larger. There have been rumors as far back as 2021 that Ilicali would be interested in taking over Hull City. On the one hand, because the previous owners – the Allam family – were probably willing to relinquish their power, and on the other hand, because Ilicali considered the opportunity for growth there to be high.
"To me, Hull was a big club before, but we can get even bigger", he says. At his reception at the MKM stadium last week, Ilicali received a very warm welcome and was greeted with "Acun, Acun"-Chants received. And he immediately addressed the fan’s soul: "I come from the street and I know what it’s like to be a fan of a soccer club."
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The Championsship relegation candidates also ended a week-long drought at the first Ilicali visit, defeating promotion candidates Blackburn Rovers at the first attempt. The man has just success.