American Bidders Ready for Final Match in Battle to Own Chelsea
At least three groups of mainly American investors have made it through to what is expected to be a final phase of the bidding war for Chelsea Football Club, according to people familiar with the situation.
While more bidders may still make the next round, those that have done so now include a consortium led by former Guggenheim Partner Todd Boehly, another by Apollo Global Management Inc. co-founder Josh Harris, and a third by the Ricketts family, the owners of Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs who have teamed up with the billionaire U.S hedge fund manager Ken Griffin.
The Raine Group, the New York-based merchant bank handling the sale for Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich, has been weighing offers submitted by last Friday’s deadline. The bank wasn’t planning to announce on Thursday which of those had made the first cut, but was instead telling those rejected for its shortlist of final candidates, the people said.
A representative for the Raine Group didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Bidders have sought to swoop on the rare chance to buy one of the top clubs in the English Premier League — Europe’s richest football division. One bid group led by Centricus Asset Management offered more than 3 billion pounds ($3.9 billion) for Chelsea, Bloomberg News reported.
For More: U.S. Billionaires Boehly, Harris Are Frontrunners For Chelsea
A deal in that price range would easily mark the biggest takeover of a European football club, passing the U.S. Glazer family’s acquisition of Manchester United FC for more than 700 million pounds in 2005.
Russian billionaire Abramovich has owned Chelsea for almost 20 years. He put the club up for sale after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which prompted the U.K. government to place him under far-reaching sanctions for his ties to President Vladimir Putin’s regime.
Since buying Chelsea in 2003, Abramovich has invested hundreds of millions of pounds to lure the best footballing talent to Chelsea and turn the team into serial winners. The club won the prestigious UEFA Champions League title last year and currently sit third in the Premier League.
The huge interest in the club from U.S. investors reflects the recent flood of American money into the world’s most popular sport. Harris already owns a stake in Premier League club Crystal Palace FC. For his Chelsea bid, he has the backing of Martin Broughton, a former chairman of British Airways Plc, and Vivek Ranadive, a co-owner of National Basketball Association franchise the Sacramento Kings. In addition to Manchester United, Americans have invested in Premier League clubs including Liverpool, Arsenal and Burnley.
The sale of Chelsea could yet come down to more than money. Any new owners will need to pass the Premier League’s fit and proper tests. The considerations include how much of the bid will go to charity and how much can be put toward the club’s Stamford Bridge stadium. The FT reported earlier that Boehly’s and Harris’s groups were leading based on the complicated set of criteria.
The U.K. government, which has frozen Abramovich’s assets and will need to grant a special license for a sale to go ahead, could also get involved if a bidder doesn’t meet its expectations.
–With assistance from Heather Perlberg, Gillian Tan and Fareed Sahloul.