English soccer’s biggest soap opera — the bidding war to own Chelsea F.C. — appears to be entering its endgame.
The Raine Group, the Latest York merchant bank appointed to sell the Premier League soccer club on behalf of Roman Abramovich, a Russian oligarch whose assets have been frozen by the British government, is poised to call its preferred bidder as soon as this week. It would select considered one of three groups backed by American investors, each of which has put forth a multibillion-dollar offer.
In picking a winner, the Chelsea board, Abramovich and Raine will inch closer to bringing an end to considered one of the strangest, and richest, takeovers in modern sports history: a beauty pageant that brought together European soccer and American money; Chelsea legends and foreign poseurs; all a part of a galaxy of people and groups with designs on a team that Abramovich’s billions have was a sporting powerhouse during his nearly two-decade reign.
The sale, at any time when a deal is finally closed, should yield the very best amount ever paid for a sports team, with estimates suggesting a price tag of about $3 billion. Abramovich is currently not allowed to receive any of the proceeds.
One in all the early front-runners within the race, a bunch led by Todd Boehly, a billionaire investor and a component owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, stays well placed to prevail. But Boehly and his partners are being challenged by a sprawling consortium bankrolled by Josh Harris and David Blitzer, members of the ownership group that controls the Philadelphia 76ers of the N.B.A., who this week added the Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton and the tennis star Serena Williams to their ranks.
The third finalist is led by Steve Pagliuca, co-owner of the N.B.A.’s Boston Celtics, and includes Larry Tenenbaum, the chairman of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which owns the N.B.A.’s Toronto Raptors, hockey’s Toronto Maple Leafs and Major League Soccer’s Toronto F.C.
Representatives of all three consortiums, in addition to a bunch of bankers from Raine led by considered one of the firm’s founders, Joe Ravitch, were summoned to London this week, where each group was to make a final pitch.
The surviving bidders navigated a path now plagued by failed suitors, some to be taken seriously and others definitely not. A bid by the Ricketts family that owns Chicago Cubs, for instance, had deep pockets but was torpedoed after anti-Muslim emails sent by the family patriarch Joe Ricketts — first reported in 2019 — resurfaced.
The M.M.A. champion Conor McGregor offered £1.5 billion (about $1.8 billion) for Chelsea on Twitter, then later deleted the post and, presumably, the offer. A mysterious Turkish businessman who claimed to have spoken with Abramovich’s lawyers a couple of price, and who boasted that “we are going to fly the Turkish flag in London soon,” later missed the deadline for bids. He claimed his lawyers had sent his offer to the unsuitable email address.
For Chelsea’s players, staff and fans, a choice cannot come soon enough. The club has been working under highly unusual financial constraints because the sanctions against Abramovich, an ally of Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, were announced. A special government license that permits the team to operate has left the club holding as many as 10,000 unsold tickets for its home games, and has forced the team to limit its travel budgets and shut the team store.
The uncertainty over the long run has affected the team on the sector, too. Chelsea expects to lose two key defenders, Antonio Rüdiger and Andreas Christensen, when their contracts expire at the tip of the season. Any talks with potential replacements cannot happen until a recent owner replaces Abramovich.
“It could be ideal” to have the situation resolved as soon as possible, Chelsea Manager Thomas Tuchel admitted Sunday after a victory over West Ham. “But you can’t pull grass so it grows faster.”
The unique nature of the sale, though, signifies that whichever group is granted preferred bidder status can have only cleared the primary hurdle. The British government must bless the sale to ensure that it to undergo, and it’ll insist on strict rules to make sure that not one of the proceeds go to Abramovich. He has said that any money he’s due can be donated to recent charitable foundation “for all victims of the war in Ukraine,” but plans for the charity remain vague.
The potential recent owners then would should be vetted and approved by the Premier League. That might raise a thorny complication for Harris and Blitzer: They currently own Chelsea’s London rival, Crystal Palace, and would due to this fact should divest their stakes before taking control of one other Premier League team.
Pagliuca, meanwhile, has an investment in Italy’s Atalanta, a team that has appeared alongside Chelsea within the Champions League in recent times.
As deadlines for final offers were prolonged once, and on the other hand, the method became subject to quite a few leaks within the news media, leading some bidders to privately express frustration and make claims of unequal treatment. Raine has not commented on the method beyond an interview with the Financial Times by which Ravitch made a startling, and unsupported, claim about Chelsea’s value.
“My guess is that Chelsea and all the top Premier League clubs will probably be value in excess of $10 billion in five years,” he said, in what was seen as a bid to drive the sales price even higher. “So I feel whoever buys Chelsea today at the costs we’re talking about is getting it for a steal.”
Chelsea’s record of success under Abramovich — five Premier League titles and two Champions League crowns — has not come cheaply; his outlay in pursuit of those honors has cost him nearly $2 billion from his personal fortune.
It’s unclear how the brand new owners will have the option to keep up that record of success without deepening those losses, which during Abramovich’s stewardship amounted to greater than $1 million every week. Under the terms of the sale, any recent owner may even should commit to redeveloping the team’s stadium, Stamford Bridge. Abramovich once pledged to finance that project, to the tune of $1.3 billion, before shelving the plan in 2018 amid a visa dispute that has kept him out of Britain for years.
The team may even must rebuild its relationships with a few of its key partners. Three, a telecoms company, suspended its sponsorship with Chelsea once the ban against Abramovich was announced, and, fearing that it is likely to be drawn into the sanctions dispute, asked that its logo be faraway from the team’s jerseys. Several weeks later — to the growing frustration of Three executives — the brand stays, with the club unwilling to make use of stickers to cover it up or order recent shirts without it.
Fans have been central within the efforts of would-be buyers of the club, with several rounds of discussions now having taken place between investor groups and influential supporter organizations, and every bidding group has added local representatives in an effort to emphasize their Chelsea bona fides. Boehly is working with Danny Finkelstein, a former adviser to the ruling Conservative Party. The Harris-Blitzer consortium was assembled by the previous British Airways chairman Martin Broughton, and includes the previous Olympics official Sebastian Coe. Pagliuca has won the support of the previous Chelsea captain John Terry.
However the sensitivity of the method has also highlighted how even a single misstep can prove costly.
The previous player Paul Canoville, Chelsea’s first Black player, revealed this week in an announcement of his own that he had met with multiple groups through the bidding process but had found one after one other wanting. He described the ownership efforts of Hamilton and Williams, who’ve claimed to support other teams, as “disrespectful” to Chelsea; credited the since-withdrawn Ricketts bid for its plans to support the Chelsea foundation; and admitted that a plan by one group to supply fans some kind of cryptocurrency technology “went over my head.”
Canoville has now publicly backed the Boehly-led bid.