Jim Ratcliffe, the industrial billionaire and one of Britain’s richest men, has made a $5.3 billion bid to buy Premier League soccer team Chelsea, a belated and audacious proposal that dwarfs at least three other multibillion-dollar offers for the team.
The price, if accepted, would be the highest price ever paid for a sports franchise. It includes a commitment to spend more than $2 billion to ensure the team retains its place among the global soccer 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 his petrochemical company, Ineos, confirming his pursuit of Chelsea. “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.”
Ratcliffe’s massive bid for the West London club – which arrived on Friday as Chelsea and the bank that hired him to manage the sale weighed in at least three other multi-billion dollar offers – marked the end of a turbulent and dizzying few weeks for Chelsea. Chelsea’s current owner, Roman Abramovich, was forced to put the team up for sale when he was placed under severe sanctions by the British government and others for his association with Russian President Vladimir Putin, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
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, a then-unknown Russian businessman, took control of the team in 2003.
Ratcliffe, whose personal fortune may exceed that of Abramovich, suggested he would be willing to do the same. His bid will likely be out of reach of the three bidders the Wren Group was already considering, and he enlisted New York-based Chelsea Commercial Bank to handle the sale. Ratcliffe’s arrival turned that process upside down, but his choice may make the sale process faster than it otherwise would have been.
Any sale would require approval from both the British government and the Premier League. The British government will need 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 all new owners.
As part of his bid, Ratcliffe pledged £2.5 billion, or $3.1 billion, to a charitable fund “to support war victims”. This language is similar to that used by Abramovich when he first announced that he would put the club up for sale. It remains unclear how this charity will operate, or how the British government will ensure that none of the proceeds from the sale will flow to Abramovich.
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, another of Abramovich’s terms.
Ratcliffe, who has described himself as a fan of Chelsea’s Premier League rival, Manchester United since his school days, has a fortune of $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 investment, 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 buying Chelsea would be a completely different size. He has pledged to maintain the team’s standing among the world’s elite teams.
“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 audacious 11 o’clock bid will anger the group of US-backed bidders who have spent the past few weeks in an increasingly complex auction devised by Raine co-founder Joe Ravitch, the banker handling the sale. 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 among the strangest seen in professional sports, a beauty pageant set up that brought together some of the world’s richest people, but also famous athletes and unknown personalities who seemed bent on using the sale to raise their profiles. . Rehn has not commented during the bidding process, other than in an interview in which Ravic made a startling – and still unsubstantiated – claim to the Financial Times that Chelsea and other Premier League teams could be worth as much as $10 billion within five years.
Around the same time Ratcliffe announced his bid, the Wall Street Journal, citing anonymous sources, reported that one of the finalists in the bid, a group led by Todd Boehle, part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, is set to enter exclusively into talks to buy Chelsea.
Boyle’s 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 this week 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. The Pagliuca consortium includes Larry Tenenbaum, president of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which owns the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, the Toronto Maple Leafs of the hockey team, and the Toronto FC Pagliuca of the Major League Soccer on Friday, as it was reported Friday that its bid It is no longer under study.
For players, staff and fans at Chelsea, the sale cannot come soon enough. The club has been operating under highly unusual financial constraints since the sanctions imposed on Abramovich, who the British government has described as a close partner of Putin. The special government license allowing the team to operate has left the club with up to 10,000 unsold tickets for its home matches, and forced the team to restrict travel budgets and close the team store.
Uncertainty about the future affected the team on the field as well. Chelsea expect to lose two key defenders, Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen, when their contracts expire at the end of the season, and no talks can take place about replacing them until a replacement for Abramovich is found.
Among the bidders, Ratcliffe appears to be the closest approximation of Abramovich to Chelsea fans who are used to having their squad financed by a single wealthy investor. The strategy was expensive – Abramovich absorbed about $2 billion in losses during his tenure as owner – but it worked: Chelsea enjoyed the most successful period in their history, becoming a serial contender for both domestic and international trophies as well as the best talent in the world, winning five Premier League titles and two championships. two Europeans.
“We will continue to invest in the team to ensure that we have a first-class team of the world’s greatest players, coaches and support staff, in both the men’s and women’s matches,” said Ratcliffe.