The sale of the Chelsea Premier League team, sparked when the British government approved its Russian owner for its relationship with the Kremlin, was already the exclusive sale of the team in recent sporting history. On Friday, it suddenly sparked further controversy, after one of Britain’s richest men entered the fray with a bold dedication and halted a process that seemed to be nearing its end.
The offer from Jim Ratcliffe, chief executive billionaire of the largest chemical company Ineos, was valued at $ 5.3 billion, and would represent the highest price ever paid to a sports team. His arrival disrupted a sales process that lasted several weeks in manufacturing; to doubt the prospect of a quick and clean ownership transfer; and introducing a new drama into the future of one of the richest and most successful football clubs in the world.
By the end of the day, of course, it was not clear whether Ratcliffe’s bid would succeed, or whether it was even welcomed.
According to several reports published Friday quoting anonymous sources, a separate tender led by Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly was granted exclusive rights to discuss his team acquisition. The New York Times could not confirm the situation, even though another ownership group confirmed that it had been told it had not been run.
Ratcliffe, meanwhile, had suddenly emerged from the shadows. He planned his 11-hour offer as a “British tender, for a British club” – a clear effort to distinguish him from the three American suitors in the eyes of the British government, which must give its blessings to any sales because of restrictions. .
The timing of Ratcliffe’s proposal and the publicity of how it was announced – through a public statement issued a few weeks after the deadline for the offer – could indicate the difficulty of finding a relationship with Raine Group, a New York consulting firm that handles it. sale on behalf of Chelsea Russian owner Roman Abramovich.
The intervention of the late Ratcliffe also increases the likelihood of a disgrace to a process that has from the beginning been marred by confusion and chaos, all playing off the collapse of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and Abramovich’s relationship with Russian president Vladimir V. Putin.
Chelsea, Europe’s defending champion, was brought to the fore even before the British government saw Abramovich as a close ally of Putin and imposed sanctions on his wealth as part of sanctions announced against the Russian oligarchs. Abramovich, who has won more than $ 2 billion from Chelsea since buying the club in 2003, announced in March that he would sell the club amid growing ties with Russia. The sale is unavoidable once Abramovich’s assets were frozen by the British government.
Ratcliffe’s offer includes a pledge to put more than $ 3 billion into a charitable donation that Abramovich said he would create to accept sales revenue. (Abramovich is not allowed, under current restrictions, to receive any money from sales.). But Ratcliffe was also committed to spending more than $ 2 billion in ensuring the team retains its place among the world’s football elite.
“We are investing this investment as fans of a good game – not as a way to make a profit,” Ratcliffe said in a statement issued by Ineos. “We do that with our main business. The club is based on its community and its fans. And it is our intention to invest in Chelsea FC for that reason.”
Under Abramovich, Chelsea has become one of the biggest and most successful teams in international football. That has come at a high cost, though, with the club losing about $ 1 million a week since Abramovich, an unknown Russian businessman at the time, took control of the club in 2003.
Ratcliffe, whose wealth could surpass even Abramovich’s wealth, has suggested that he be willing to do the same. But it was not known Friday if his offer would be heard, or if a separate tender could first get the approval of Abramovich, the British government and the Premier League.
The government will need to issue a license, similar to the one that allowed Chelsea to continue operating despite a ban on assets by other Abramovich 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, on a charitable guarantee “to help victims of war.” The language was similar to the one used by Abramovich when he announced his sale to Chelsea, but it is unclear how such a charitable organization would operate, or how British officials would ensure that no revenue was brought to Abramovich or his institutions.
Ratcliffe has also pledged to invest $ 2.1 billion more in Chelsea over the next 10 years, an amount that will include the reconstruction of the club’s old Stamford Bridge stadium, one of Abramovich’s conditions for any new owner.
Chelsea would not be the first to invest in sports, or even football, for Ratcliffe, a fan who has identified himself as Chelsea’s Premier League rival Manchester United since his school days. He already owns the French paid football club OGC Nice, located near his home in Monaco, and FC Lausanne-Sport, a team in Switzerland. But buying Chelsea would be at a completely different level for someone who is known for keeping a low profile.
“We believe that London should have a club that reflects the status of the city,” Ratcliffe said. “One that is held equally by Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich. We intend Chelsea to be the club.”
His bold and unsolicited offer will surely anger a group of US-backed bidders who have spent several weeks in an increasingly difficult auction designed by Raine co-founder Joe Ravitch. The deadline for final tenders was extended several times, and then this weekend the three remaining investment groups in the process were told to increase their offerings by $ 600 million more.
The sales environment was already one of the highlights of professional sports, a beauty contest that brought together some of the richest people in the world, but also the famous athletes and celebrities who seemed determined to use the sales to enhance their profile. .
Boehly’s bid, which sought to get his own British connection with a large number of well-to-do Englishmen, including George Osborne, the former British treasurer general, has been working hard to get Chelsea since Abramovich announced his departure from the club. . Boehly and his allies went through a difficult time – avoiding mistakes that caused some cost to other brides – to emerge as the frontrunner this week.
The Boehly team was challenged by a large alliance signed by Josh Harris and David Blitzer, members of the ownership group that controls the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, who recently added Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton and tennis star Serena Williams to their ranks.
The third winner of the final was a team led by Steve Pagliuca, co-owner of the Nost Boston Celtics. The Pagliuca coalition included Larry Tanenbaum, chairman of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which owns the NBA Toronto Raptors, Toronto Maple Leafs hockey and Toronto FC of the Premier League But confirmed Friday that it had been told his bid had not been considered.
For Chelsea players, staff and fans, sales may not come soon. The club has been operating under unusual financial hardship since sanctions against Abramovich were announced. A special government license that allows the team to operate has forced the club to hold 10,000 unsold tickets for its home games, forcing the team to reduce its travel budget and close the team’s online and brick and mortar stores.
“It would be nice” to resolve the situation as soon as possible, Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel admitted after Sunday’s victory. “But you can’t pull the grass to grow faster.”