The four groups trying to buy Chelsea face an anxious wait after they tabled improved bids for the club on Thursday. The merits of each bid are being assessed by Roman Abramovich and the club’s board, and Raine, the US bank handling the sale, is expected to present a preferred bidder to the UK government for approval early next week.
Raine’s contribution is likely to influence the decision of the Chelsea hierarchy and it is believed that the highest bid will not necessarily be the one that wins. Abramovich, who was slapped with sanctions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, should also consider the club’s future well-being. The Russian billionaire wants Chelsea, who could be sold for up to £2.75billion, to be in good hands.
The candidates all have a strong background in American sports. They include a consortium led by LA Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly and another by Chicago Cubs owners Tom and Laura Ricketts.
A consortium led by Sir Martin Broughton and Sebastian Coe has received backing from Philadelphia 76ers basketball team owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer. The fourth offer is led by Boston Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca. All four groups say their offers are cash only and will not burden Chelsea with debt.
Sources familiar with the process believe a preferential offer could emerge after Monday. However, there have been delays throughout and there could be no development until the end of next week. The Premier League will have to ensure that every bidder passes their suitability and ownership test, while the government’s main priority is to ensure that none of the money from the sale goes to Abramovich. The government will have to issue a license for the sale to take place.
At first glance, Boehly’s offer appears to be the least complicated. He has teamed up with fellow Dodgers owner Mark Walter, Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss and London businessman Jonathan Goldstein. The group is backed by the investment company Clearlake Capital. Sources dismissed suggestions that Clearlake would take a majority stake. Conservative peer Daniel Finkelstein and publicist Barbara Charone will become non-executive directors if Boehly’s bid wins.
The Boehly Group was the first to move when it became clear Abramovich’s ownership could not continue. He would have been able to pull off a takeover by now had Raine not decided to hold an auction.
The other groups, however, are firmly in contention. The Ricketts family have not been deterred by Chelsea fans opposing their bid on historic accusations of Islamophobia. They have teamed up with hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin and Dan Gilbert-led Rock Entertainment Group, which is worth around $31bn (£23.7bn). The Ricketts plan to add Karan Bilimoria, a conservative peer, Chelsea fan and founder of Cobra Beer, to the board.
Broughton and Lord Coe are also seen as viable owners, although they haven’t named all of the investors behind their group. Their offer is complicated by the fact that Harris and Blitzer have stakes in Crystal Palace which they would have to sell to become Chelsea shareholders.
Pagliuca will have to reduce his stake in Atalanta if his offer is successful. He was joined by Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin and Elaine Andriejanssen, a businesswoman and wife of Saverin, as well as NBA President Larry Tanenbaum. Peter Guber, who owns part of the Dodgers with Boehly, is also involved in the Pagliuca bid and there is backing from former Disney chief executive Bob Iger, B Capital co-founder Raj Ganguly, capital -venturer Jim Breyer and entrepreneur Div Turakhia.
The groups have been told they must commit to investing at least £1billion in Chelsea’s infrastructure, academy and women’s team. The bidders all have plans to refurbish Stamford Bridge. They will offer transfer support to Thomas Tuchel, the men’s team manager, this summer.