The sale of the English Premier League soccer team Chelsea, which began when the British government imposed sanctions on its Russian owner for his ties to the Kremlin, was the most unusual sale of the team in the modern history of the sport. On Friday, it suddenly became even more confusing, after one of Britain’s richest men entered the fray with a daring attempt to upend a process that seemed to be coming to an end.
The bid by Jim Ratcliffe, the billionaire CEO of chemical giant Ineos, was valued at $5.3 billion, and would represent the highest price ever paid for a sports team. Her arrival disrupted the sale that had been taking weeks; – Doubting the possibility of a quick and clean transfer of ownership; And introduce new drama into the future of one of the world’s richest and most successful football clubs.
By the end of the day, in fact, it wasn’t clear whether Ratcliffe’s offer would be successful, or whether it would be welcome.
According to multiple reports published Friday citing anonymous sources, a different bid led by part-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Todd Boehly, has been given exclusive rights to negotiate his purchase of the team. The New York Times has been unable to confirm this status, even with at least one other property group asserting that they have been told they are out of the competition.
Meanwhile, Ratcliffe suddenly appeared from the shadows. He coined his eleventh bid as “a British bid, for a British club” – an apparent attempt to distinguish him from three American competitors in the eyes of the British government, which should bless any sale due to sanctions.
The timing of Ratcliffe’s proposal and the highly public nature of how it was announced – through a public statement released weeks after the bid deadline – may indicate difficulties in gaining traction with the Ryan Group, a New York-based consultancy handling the sale on behalf of Chelsea’s Russian owner, Roman Abramovich.
Ratcliffe’s belated intervention also raises the possibility of an ugly end to a process that from its inception has been shrouded in confusion and chaos, all playing against the fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and Abramovich’s relations with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. put it in the .
Chelsea, the ruling European champions, was in deep meltdown even before the British government deemed Abramovich close to Putin and imposed severe limits on his wealth as part of a broader set of sanctions. announce Against a group of Russian oligarchs. Abramovich, who has spent more than $2 billion on Chelsea since buying the team in 2003, announced in March that he would sell the team amid scrutiny of his ties to Russia. Sale became inevitable once Abramovich was sold Assets are frozen by the British government.
Ratcliffe’s offer includes a commitment to deposit more than $3 billion in a charitable foundation that Abramovich said he would form to accept proceeds from the sale. (Abramović is prohibited, under the penalties currently in place, from receiving any money from the sale.). But Ratcliffe has also pledged to spend more than $2 billion to ensure the team retains its place among the global football elite.
“We are making this investment as fans of the beautiful game – not as a means of making a profit,” Ratcliffe said in a statement from Ineos. “We do this with our core business. The club is rooted in its community and its fans. We intend to invest in Chelsea FC for this reason.”
Under the leadership of Abramovich, Chelsea became one of the largest and most successful teams in world football. But that came at a huge cost, with the team losing about $1 million a week since Abramovich, the then-unknown Russian businessman, took control of the club in 2003.
Ratcliffe, whose fortune may exceed even that of Abramovich, suggested that he would be willing to do the same. But it was not clear on Friday whether his bid would even get a hearing, or whether a different bid might first win the approval of Abramovich, the British government and the Premier League.
The government would need to issue a license, similar to the one that allowed Chelsea to continue operating despite a freeze order placed on Abramovich’s other assets and companies, as a condition of any sale. The Premier League must also approve all new owners.
As part of his offer, Ratcliffe said he would pay 2.5 billion pounds, or $3.1 billion, into a charitable fund “to support war victims”. That language was similar to that used by Abramovich when he announced he would offer Chelsea for sale, but it is unclear how the charity will operate, or how British officials will ensure that none of the proceeds flow to Abramovich or the entities he controls.
Ratcliffe has also pledged to invest another $2.1 billion in Chelsea over the next 10 years, a number that will also include the redevelopment of the old Stamford Bridge stadium, another of Abramovich’s terms for any new owner.
Chelsea wouldn’t be the first foray into sports investment, or even football, for Ratcliffe, who has described himself as a fan of Chelsea’s Premier League rival Manchester United since his school days. He already owns French professional football club OGC Nice, located near his home in Monaco, and FC Lausanne-Sport, a team in Switzerland. But buying Chelsea would be an entirely different size for a man known to keep a low profile.
“We believe London should have a club that reflects the city’s standing,” Ratcliffe said. “One is being held in the same regard as Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich. We intend Chelsea to be that club.”
His bold and seemingly unpopular bid surely angered the group of US-backed bidders who spent weeks in an increasingly complex auction devised by Raine co-founder Joe Ravitch. Deadlines for submitting final bids were extended on several occasions, and then late this week the three investment groups remaining in the process were asked to increase their bids by another $600 million.
The conditions of the sale were indeed among the strangest seen in professional sports, a beauty pageant that brought together some of the world’s richest people, but also famous athletes and little-known personalities who seemed intent on using the sale to raise their profiles. .
Boehly, who has sought to secure his own British contacts by associating himself with a large number of well-connected Britons, including former British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, has been working hard to secure Chelsea since Abramovich announced he was leaving the club. Buhli and his co-workers roamed challenging terrain—and avoided mistakes that proved costly to other suitors—to emerge as the No. 1 spot this week.
The Boehly group has been challenged by a sprawling consortium funded by Josh Harris and David Blitzer, members of the property group that controls the Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA, who recently added Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton and tennis star Serena Williams to their ranks.
The third group to reach the Finals was a group led by Steve Pagliuca, co-owner of the Boston Celtics in the NBA. Pagliuca’s consortium included Larry Tenenbaum, president of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which owns the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey player, and the NFL’s Toronto FC, but confirmed Friday that it had been informed that its offer was no longer under review. the study.
For players, staff and fans at Chelsea, the sale cannot come soon enough. The club has been operating under very unusual financial constraints since the sanctions against Abramovich were announced. A special government license allowing the team to operate has left the club holding up to 10,000 unsold tickets for its home games, and forced the team to restrict travel budgets and close the team’s online stores.
Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel admitted after Sunday’s win that it would “be ideal” for the situation to be resolved as quickly as possible. “But you can’t uproot grass so it grows faster.”