Jim Ratcliffe, a billionaire industrialist and one of Britain’s richest men, has made a $5.3 billion bid to buy Premier League football team Chelsea FC, a belated and audacious bid that eclipses at least three other multibillion-dollar offers for the team.
The price, if accepted, would be the highest ever paid for a sports franchise, and includes a commitment to spend more than $2 billion to ensure the team maintains its place among football’s world elite. .
“We are making this investment as fans of the beautiful game – not as a way to make a profit,” Ratcliffe said in a statement from his petrochemical company, Ineos, confirming his pursuit of Chelsea. “We do this with our main activities. The club is rooted in its community and supporters. And it is our intention to invest in Chelsea FC for this reason.
Ratcliffe’s huge bid for the west London club – which arrived on Friday as Chelsea and the bank it hired to handle the sale weighed in at least three other multibillion-dollar offers – caps a few weeks tumultuous and dizzying for Chelsea. Current Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich was forced to put the team up for sale when he came under crippling sanctions from the British government and others for his association with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin following of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Under Abramovich, Chelsea became one of the biggest and most successful teams in world football. It came at a huge cost, however, with the team losing around $1 million a week since Abramovich, then an unknown Russian businessman, took over the team in 2003.
Ratcliffe, whose personal wealth may exceed Abramovich’s fortune, suggested he would be willing to do the same. Its bid will most likely be beyond the reach of the three bidders who were already being considered by Raine Group, New York investment bank Chelsea has enlisted to handle the sale. Ratcliffe’s arrival upended that process, but choosing him could make the sale faster than it would have been.
Any sale would require approval from the UK government and the Premier League. The British government will have to issue a license, similar to the one that allowed Chelsea to continue operating after Abramovich was placed on the sanctions list, and the Premier League must approve any new owners.
As part of his bid, Ratcliffe pledged 2.5 billion pounds, or $3.1 billion, to a charitable trust “to support victims of war”. This language is similar to that used by Abramovich when he first announced he was putting the club up for sale. It remains unclear how such a charity would operate, or how the UK government would ensure that no proceeds from the sale went to Abramovich.
Ratcliffe has also pledged to invest a further $2.1 billion in Chelsea over the next 10 years, a figure which would also include the redevelopment of the club’s aging Stamford Bridge stadium, another of Abramovich’s stipulations.
Ratcliffe, a self-proclaimed fan of Chelsea’s Premier League rivals Manchester United since his school days, is worth $10.6 billion, according to an index of the world’s richest people compiled by Bloomberg. Chelsea wouldn’t be Ratcliffe’s first foray into sports investing, or even football. He owns French professional football club OGC Nice, located near his home in Monaco, as well as FC Lausanne-Sport, a team in Switzerland. But the purchase of Chelsea would be on a whole different scale. He pledged to keep the team’s place among the world’s elite teams.
“We believe London should have a club that reflects the stature of the city,” Ratcliffe said. One who holds the same esteem as Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich. We intend Chelsea to be that club.
His audacious 11th-hour bid will anger the group of American-backed bidders who have spent the past few weeks participating in an increasingly convoluted auction engineered by Raine co-founder Joe Ravitch, the banker in charge sales. Deadlines for final offers were extended several times, then at the end of this week the three investment groups remaining in the process were asked to increase their offers by another $600 million.
The circumstances of the sale were among the strangest seen in professional sport, creating a beauty contest that brought together some of the wealthiest people in the world, but also famous athletes and unknown figures who seemed determined to use the sale. to raise their own profiles. . Raine made no comment during the bidding process, beyond an interview in which Ravitch made a startling – and as yet unsubstantiated – claim to the Financial Times that Chelsea and other teams from Premier League could be worth $10 billion within five years.
Around the same time Ratcliffe made his bid public, The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, reported that one of the finalists in the bid, a group led by the Los Dodgers co-owner Angeles, Todd Boehly, was to enter exclusively. talks to acquire Chelsea.
Boehly’s group had been challenged by a sprawling consortium funded by Josh Harris and David Blitzer, members of the ownership group that controls the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, who this week added Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton and tennis star Serena Williams to their ranks. .
The third runner-up was a group led by NBA Boston Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca. The Pagliuca consortium includes Larry Tenenbaum, the president of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Toronto Raptors of the NBA, the Toronto Maple Leafs of hockey and the Toronto FC Pagliuca group of Major League Soccer. Pagliuca’s group was informed on Friday that its candidacy was no longer under consideration.
For Chelsea players, staff and fans, a sale can’t come soon enough. The club has been working under very unusual financial constraints since the sanctions against Abramovich, described by the British government as a close associate of Putin. The special government license that allows the team to operate has left the club with up to 10,000 unsold tickets for its home matches and forced the team to limit travel budgets and close the team store .
Uncertainty about the future has also affected the team on the pitch. Chelsea expect to lose two key defenders, Antonio Rüdiger and Andreas Christensen, when their contracts expire at the end of the season, and no discussion of their replacement can take place until a replacement for Abramovich is found.
Of the bidders, Ratcliffe appears to be the closest approximation to Abramovich for Chelsea fans accustomed to their team being funded by a single wealthy investor. The strategy was costly – Abramovich absorbed around $2 billion in losses during his tenure as owner – but successful: Chelsea enjoyed the greatest period of success in their history, becoming a serial contender for domestic and international honors as well as to the best talent in the world. , and winning five Premier League and two European Championships.
“We will continue to invest in the squad to ensure we have a top class squad of the best players, coaches and support staff in the world, in both men’s and women’s matches,” Ratcliffe said.