Chelsea: Meet American sports billionaires jostling to seize control of English soccer club

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The English Premier League is already full of American dollars but more could be on their way with one of Europe’s most successful soccer teams on the market.

John W Henry leads Red Sox’s Fenway Sports Group (FSG) in running Liverpool FC, the Glazer family, who also own Tampa Bay Buccaneers, are in charge at Manchester United. 

Arsenal are run by an American with Super Bowl-winning Rams owner Stan Kroenke in charge while San Francisco 49ers’ owner Jed York has a minority stake in Leeds United.

Teams at the top of the soccer world in England rarely get put up for sale and so it has put many of America’s billionaires on alert ahead of the March 15 deadline for offers.   

Current Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has hired American merchant bank, the Raine Group, to help oversee the sale and any interested bidder must submit their offer to them by next Tuesday. 

It is reported that around 20 parties have expressed interest but only a handful are seen as credible.

Abramovich is in a rush to sell, though, as he could be sanctioned by the British Government as soon as next week after Russia invaded Ukraine. 

Todd Boehly, part owner of Major League Baseball’s LA Dodgers, is pulling together a consortium with Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss, while Josh Harris, owner of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, as well as New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, are also reportedly in the frame for the London soccer team, who Abramovich has valued at $3.95billion.

Abramovich accepts that price is highly unlikely to be met but he is keen not to cash in on the UEFA Champions League winners on the cheap.

But time marches on and the deadline is approaching. Sportsmail assesses the names linked with taking the reins from Abramovich so far.  

Prospective buyers have until March 15 to file bids to take Chelsea off the hands of Roman Abramovich, who wants to sell the club before he is potentially sanctioned by the UK Government after Russia's invasion of Ukraine

Prospective buyers have until March 15 to file bids to take Chelsea off the hands of Roman Abramovich, who wants to sell the club before he is potentially sanctioned by the UK Government after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine 

Josh Harris 

American billionaire Josh Harris, who has stakes in the NBA, NHL and Premier League side Crystal Palace, is lining up a move, according to The Financial Times

Harris, 57, has an estimated worth of $7.5bn but his stake in fellow English soccer team Crystal Palace could confuse matters in making a bid for Chelsea as Premier League rules state he’d have to sell that stake before potentially taking over at Stamford Bridge.

Harris, alongside investor David Blitzer, invested $66m in Palace in 2015. A bid for Chelsea would likely again be alongside Blitzer, with whom he has the company Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment.

The 57-year-old made his name when co-founding Apollo Global Management in 1990 with fellow billionaires Leon Black and Marc Rowan.

Harris, Black and Rowan became introduced at investment bank Drexel Burnham Lambert and went on to create Apollo which, estimates say, has more than $470bn in assets.

He took on the 76ers in 2011, with backing of a consortium, for $290m and has seen the Eastern Conference team quintuple in value, according to Forbes.  

Bloomberg News reported recently that Harris, who Forbes estimate is worth $5.8bn, is also looking into expanding his sports portfolio with NFL franchise Denver Broncos. 

Estimates believe the Broncos could sell for as much as $4bn, an NFL record.

But with Chelsea, Harris, a father to five kids, and Blitzer would have to be swift in selling their stake in Palace and with time of the essence for Abramovich, it seems a difficult hurdle to overcome.

Serious contender rating: 4/10 

Philadelphia 76ers owner Josh Harris (left) is debating an offer for Chelsea, a report claims

Philadelphia 76ers owner Josh Harris (left) is debating an offer for Chelsea, a report claims

Woody Johnson 

From NBA and NHL to the NFL.

ESPN claim 74-year-old American businessman Woody Johnson – a long-time ally of former President Donald Trump and heir to Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune – is set to make an offer, having already reportedly spoken to Raine Group.

The University of Arizona graduate, who is estimated to be worth $6.3bn, is thought to have a good understanding of Chelsea and the Premier League, having lived in London during his time as United States ambassador to the United Kingdom under Trump.

But a wider signal of caution for Chelsea fans comes in Johnson’s ownership of the  New York Jets. 

Johnson bought the Jets in 2000 for $635m and had to deal with the sudden resignation of head coach Bill Belichick, who left to join the New England Patriots in Foxboro, where he has won a record six Super Bowls as head coach, and drafted legendary quarterback Tom Brady within three months.

New York Jets owner Woody Johnson (centre) is reportedly preparing a bid to buy Chelsea

New York Jets owner Woody Johnson (centre) is reportedly preparing a bid to buy Chelsea

The Jets won the AFC divisional play-offs in 1998 but would not reach that stage again until 2009, almost a decade into Johnson’s ownership. 

The last campaign in which the side won more games than they lost was 2015, with a wretched regular season record since then of 5-11, 5-11, 4-12, 7-9, 2-14 and 4-13 – 59 wins and 101 losses since their last play-off appearance. 

The worst of those years, from 2017 to 2021, came when Johnson’s brother Christopher was in charge of the team during Woody’s four-year tenure as ambassador. 

Although the financial value of the Jets has risen dramatically, owing to the money-spinning level of the NFL, to around $3.2bn now, that will be little consolation to fans, who have seen the team decline dramatically from a sporting standpoint. 

In 2017, fans urged him to sell up, with banners like ‘Dear Woody, Sell the team’ displayed around the MetLife stadium.  

Serious contender rating: 4/10 

The American businessman is a long-term ally of former US President Donald Trump (right)

The American businessman is a long-term ally of former US President Donald Trump (right)

Thomas Ricketts 

Perhaps one of the most eye-catching names linked to succeeding Abramovich is Thomas Ricketts. 

The Chicago Cubs chairman made his fortune in investment. He once owned a minor share in second division English soccer team Derby County and four years ago fronted up a bid to buy Italian team AC Milan, so his eyes have been caught by opportunities to invest in soccer before.

‘An approach at AC Milan would involve no quick changes but long term investments to ensure lasting success,’ a Ricketts family statement read in 2018, only for no deal to materialise. 

He has been involved with the Cubs since 2009, when he purchased them for $900m and ended the Cubs 108-year drought for a championship in 2016.

The Ricketts family has overseen a near $1bn renovation of the iconic Wrigley Field stadium and have also redeveloped the surrounding areas of the facility.

Sky News reported that a move from Ricketts could come in partnership with Ken Griffin, founder and chief executive of Citadel Asset Management and described by the publication as ‘one of the most successful – and wealthiest – executives in the American hedge fund industry.’ 

The Ricketts family is one of the top-100 richest families in America but with Major League Baseball currently enduring a lockout with the players’ association, the immediate focus may rule out going all in on a soccer bid.

Serious contender rating: 7/10

Thomas Ricketts, chairman of the Chicago Cubs, is one of the most eye-catching names to be linked to the purchase of Chelsea

Thomas Ricketts, chairman of the Chicago Cubs, is one of the most eye-catching names to be linked to the purchase of Chelsea

RedBird Capital Partners

The Manhattan-based private equity company already have an 11 per cent stake in FSG, Liverpool’s owners. 

Similarly to Josh Harris with Crystal Palace, that would have to be sold before the wheels can really turn on a move to purchase Chelsea.

ESPN reported that in recent months RedBird have been exploring opportunities to purchase a soccer team in Europe and Abramovich’s decision to sell Chelsea has put them on alert. 

RedBird was founded by former Goldman Sachs partner Gerry Cardinale. 

He took a minority stake in sports marketing agency Wasserman last year and invested $275m in Skydance Media, the company behind Oscar-winning Korean movie, Parasite. 

RedBird’s website says they have $5bn in assets and Cardinale told the Boston Globe this month that an NBA franchise is ‘a real top priority’ with dreams of a cricket team and a soccer team from another continent.

‘Everything’s in play, I would say,’ Cardinale told the Globe, showing his ambition. 

But again, like with Harris, time is of the essence and rushing through the sale of a stake in a rival Premier League outfit before completing a deal to take Chelsea off Abramovich’s hands seems to make it unlikely that they will emerge as the preferred bidder. 

Serious contender rating: 5/10 

RedBird Capital Partners is run by Gerry Cardinale, who is keen to buy more sports franchises

RedBird Capital Partners is run by Gerry Cardinale, who is keen to buy more sports franchises

AMERICAN SOCCER OWNERS IN ENGLISH FOOTBALL 

Manchester United – The Glazer Family

Net worth: $4.7bn

Other clubs/franchises: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFL)

The family are overwhelmingly unpopular with United fans ever since their leveraged buyout in 2005. 

Fans openly revolted against the family last year by storming entry into the stadium following news of a plan to form a breakaway European Super League of soccer’s biggest teams, forcing a game with Liverpool to be postponed. 

They have invested heavily in the roster, including bringing back Cristiano Ronaldo last summer, but the six Glazer siblings have drawn out more than $1billion out of United in dividends, management fees and loan repayments since taking over in 2005.

Their ownership has brought five Premier League titles, three English League Cups, an FA Cup, one Champions League and one Europa League. 

Avram Glazer (left) has run Manchester United since taking over back in 2005

Avram Glazer (left) has run Manchester United since taking over back in 2005

Liverpool – Fenway Sports Group

Net worth: $7bn

Other clubs/franchises: Boston Red Sox (MLB)

FSG has owned Liverpool since 2010 and has turned the team back into one of the best soccer teams in the world. 

John W Henry is FSG’s main owner with 40 per cent of the shares, while Michael Gordon has 12 per cent, and Tom Werner sits as chairman of Liverpool. 

Like the Glazers, they have divided opinion during their time as owners, not least when they pushed to join the European Super League. 

There have been a number of mistakes made, and late u-turns, on ticket prices and the decision to furlough – a leave of absence with a portion of pay paid per month – non-playing staff during the pandemic.

Fenway Sports Group, led by John W Henry (second from left), own Liverpool FC

Fenway Sports Group, led by John W Henry (second from left), own Liverpool FC

Arsenal – Stan Kroenke 

Net worth: $10.7bn

Other clubs/franchises: LA Rams (NFL), Colorado Rapids (MLS), Denver Nuggets (NBA), Colorado Avalanche (NHL) 

Wholly unpopular with Arsenal fans as they have failed multiple times to try and get him to sell. 

Kroenke celebrated winning the 2022 Super Bowl with his LA Rams but success at Arsenal has been starved for years. 

Boldly moved Rams from St Louis, and also built a state-of-the-art new stadium at a cost of £4bn, but is regularly accused of failing to show similar investment in Arsenal.

Spotify owner Daniel Ek, an Arsenal fan, was pushing to buy Arsenal last year. 

LA Rams owner Stan Kroenke is a deeply unpopular owner of soccer team, Arsenal FC

LA Rams owner Stan Kroenke is a deeply unpopular owner of soccer team, Arsenal FC

Leeds United –  Jed York (minority stake)

Net worth: $200m

Other clubs/franchises: San Francisco 49ers (NFL)

Through investment team, 49ers Enterprises, 49ers CEO Jed York bought a 15 per cent stake in English Premier League club Leeds United. 

In 2021 they have furthered their control, now owning 37 per cent of the team in Yorkshire, England. 

A report by English newspaper, the Sunday Times, states that investment in Leeds by 49ers Enterprises is worth around $69m. 

Crystal Palace – Steve Parish (UK), Joshua Harris and David S. Blitzer (US)

Net worth: Harris $5.8bn, Blitzer $1.3bn

Other clubs/franchises: New Jersey Devils (NHL), Philadelphia 76ers (NBA)  

Todd Boehly and Hansjorg Wyss

The duo laid their cards on the table and made their offer on Tuesday but Abramovich is said to be reserving judgement until a full review of the bid has been made. At this moment in time, he isn’t sure if the duo are the right fit for Chelsea’s future.

Boehly, who studied at the London School of Economics, is a businessman and part owner of the LA Dodgers, where he holds a 20 per cent stake. 

He tried – and failed – to buy Chelsea three years ago with a $2.8bn bid. 

Boehly has made his money through his private investment firm Eldridge Industries, which possesses shares in a businesses from sport to real estate and insurance.

Boehly, who has three sons named Nick, Zach and Clay, also has stakes in the Los Angeles Lakers, the Los Angeles Sparks, Cloud9, and DraftKings.

Wyss, 86, is a Swiss billionaire who made his fortune in manufacturing medical equipment and devices and has a net worth of just under $5.4bn.

All the early signs suggest that while the duo hold a genuine interest in Chelsea, Abramovich is unconvinced by the public nature of their interest and over their ability to move the club forward. He said he is selling Chelsea with a heavy heart and wants assurances from the next owner over their intentions. 

That said, Boehly and Wyss do seem to have the funds and with Abramovich in a hurry to get a deal over the line before sanctions bite, can he afford to get too picky?

Serious contender rating: 5/10 

Swiss tycoon Hansjorg Wyss, 86, has a net worth of just under $5.4bn

American tycoon Todd Boehly owns a 20 per cent stake in the LA Dodgers baseball team

Tycoons Hansjorg Wyss (left) and Todd Boehly (right) have made an offer to buy Chelsea

Nick Candy

A new name in the running, after Sportsmail reported his interest on Tuesday night. A Chelsea fan and season-ticket holder, his interest comes alongside a £1.98bn plan to renovate Stamford Bridge, something which would tick the box of taking care of the club’s future which Abramovich wants to see in a prospective buyer.

Stadium plans might particularly appeal to Abramovich, as well. It was something he looked into himself and was prepared to pay up to $2.6bn to modernise Stamford Bridge which he felt in turn would secure his Chelsea legacy.

Nick Candy, pictured with wife Holly Vallance, is a Chelsea season ticket holder and a lifelong fan of the team

Nick Candy, pictured with wife Holly Vallance, is a Chelsea season ticket holder and a lifelong fan of the team

Chelsea announced plans to build a 60,000-seater stadium on the same site in 2015 and received planning permission following a lengthy battle with local residents two years later. 

But the project was scrapped in 2018 after Abramovich’s visa renewal was blocked by government in light of poisonings by Russia in the English town of Salisbury.

‘We are looking at what the art of the possible is,’ Candy told The Telegraph on Wednesday about his interest.

Candy and his younger brother Christian are British luxury-property developers, estimated to share a joint net worth of $2bn. 

He will pour some of his own worth into the takeover but is also in talks with American investors about forming a consortium.

Candy is married to actress and singer Holly Vallance and they have two children together.

A spokesperson for Candy told Sportsmail: ‘Mr Candy has a huge affinity with Chelsea. His father was asked to play for the club and he has been watching matches at Stamford Bridge since the age of four. 

‘The club deserves a world class stadium and infrastructure and Mr Candy’s unique expertise and background in real estate would be a hugely valuable asset to delivering this vision.’ 

Serious contender rating: 7/10 

Candy (left) is talking to a number of American investors about forming a consortium

Candy (left) is talking to a number of American investors about forming a consortium

Vivek Ranadive

Interest from the owner of the NBA team Sacramento Kings surfaced on Tuesday when Sportico claimed that Vivek Ranadive is putting the finishing touches to an offer that he plans to submit.

This could be an interesting one to watch. 

Ranadive has the sporting pedigree that could impress Abramovich – he has been owner of the Kings since 2013, buying them for $534m. 

They are now worth over $2bn and furthermore, Ranadive plays an active role on NBA committees helping to shape the future direction of the league.

And he seems to be working quietly, as well. 

Sportico credited his interest with people ‘familiar with the matter’ who ‘aren’t authorised to speak publicly’. A spokesperson for the Kings also refused to comment on the alleged interest.

It would seem that Ranadive would need to form a consortium with fellow backers though. While the Kings are worth billions, his personal wealth comes in at $922m.

Serious contender rating: 5/10 

Vivek Ranadive owns NBA team Sacramento Kings and is reportedly putting the finishing touches to a bid to attempt to buy Chelsea

Vivek Ranadive owns NBA team Sacramento Kings and is reportedly putting the finishing touches to a bid to attempt to buy Chelsea 

Muhsin Bayrak 

He’s talked the talk, but it feels like Turkish billionaire Muhsin Bayrak is talking almost a bit too much to walk the walk. 

The businessman has claimed he is in talks with Abramovich and suggested they were moving forward promptly.

‘We are negotiating the terms of the purchase of Chelsea with Roman Abramovich’s lawyers,’ the businessman told Turkish publication Yeni Safak. 

‘We are in the negotiation phase for the signatures. We will fly the Turkish flag in London soon. 

‘We made our offer. Because of the war with Russia and Ukraine in the world. Because they find Turkey safe, they want to get most of the after-sales money in Turkey. We are planning to sign soon.’

It’s not exactly the conduct of someone keeping the low profile that Abramovich and his advisors will deem credible. 

Yet Sportsmail revealed last week that a private jet owned by Abramovich made a trip to Turkey on Wednesday, potentially to discuss terms with Bayrak.

Serious contender rating: 2/10 

Turkish billionaire Muhsin Bayrak has said that he has begun negotiations to buy Chelsea but the public manner of his interest seems to be at odds with what Abramovich is looking for

Turkish billionaire Muhsin Bayrak has said that he has begun negotiations to buy Chelsea but the public manner of his interest seems to be at odds with what Abramovich is looking for

PS: Conor McGregor…

He’s the man who loves to hog the headlines and as soon as Abramovich announced his decision to sell Chelsea, the Irish Mixed Martial Arts star took to Twitter to outline his interest.

McGregor tweeted he’d offer $1.5bn to Abramovich and tweeted: ‘I do not speak in jest. I am exploring this, as I said. Celtic from Dermot Desmond, Manchester United from the Glazers, and now the recently up for sale Chelsea football club.

‘All being explored. A football franchise purchase is in my future make no mistake about it. 

‘How wouldn’t I lead a team of young, dedicated athletes to glory. I’m perfect for the job. Pray it’s your team.’

It might not just be bold chat from McGregor. 

Sky News reported that he and his management company, Paradigm Sports, is working with McGregor Sports & Entertainment and Empowerment IP Capital, which is headed by sports financier Stephen Duval, on making a genuine offer for the club.

Sky also claim that when an offer is made it will be worth much more than the $1.5bn figure that McGregor first mooted. 

Watch this space…

UFC fighter Conor McGregor tweeted that he wants to buy Chelsea and there are tentative suggestions that his talk might not have been as outlandish as it may seem

UFC fighter Conor McGregor tweeted that he wants to buy Chelsea and there are tentative suggestions that his talk might not have been as outlandish as it may seem

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