Football was born in England. The first professional contracts for players were given there at the end of the 19th century. A hobby model was also born there. And also the first great transition of the commodification of football tickets or television rights. It was also the protagonist of the entry of foreign money from big businessmen in Eastern Europe and, later, of Arab petrodollars. It is also the gateway for American sports franchise entrepreneurs in European football. The sale of Chelsea, forced by sanctions on Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich Following the invasion of Ukraine, it is the latest chapter in an American dominance that already encompasses nearly half of the world's top-earning soccer league teams.
Chelsea FC, the current European champion, announced this weekend the end of the sale process that began two months ago with the sanctions imposed on its owner. After receiving more than half a dozen purchase proposals, it has finally been a consortium of American investors, led by businessman Todd Boehly. As reported by the club itself in a statement, these businessmen will invest 4,250 million pounds (5,000 million euros) of which about 3,000 million euros will go to the acquisition of the shares of the club from Abramovich and the rest, to investments in the club, in the stadium and in the team female. The Russian oligarch assured that 100% of the money that he would receive for the operation will go to "charitable causes", as the club has reiterated this weekend. The operation still requires the approval of the British Government and is expected to close at the end of this month.
Boehly has launched the offer to buy Chelsea, third-placed in the Premier League this season, with his traditional partner, Mark Walter, the Clearlake fund and the Swiss investor Hansjörg Wyss. Following the club's announcement, Boehly himself went this weekend to watch Chelsea's game at Stamford Bridge in which his new team drew 2-2 with Wolverhampton.
With this, the shadow of American money in the main league in the world becomes longer and now reaches nine of the 20 teams that make it up, in addition to others from the lower leagues. This list, to which Chelsea will now be added, includes Arsenal, Aston Villa, Burnley, Crystal Palace, Leeds United, Liverpool, Manchester United and West Ham. Six of the top 10 finishers in the championship — with three rounds to go — are controlled by American investors.
US capital thus gains prominence in a league where great fortunes and local businessmen barely retain ownership of a fifth of the teams that participate in it. The Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Thailand or China are other countries whose businessmen or states have invested millions of euros in this championship, the one with the highest income in Europe, except for continental competitions.
Most of the American businessmen who have landed in English football in the last decade are closely linked to a sports model different from the one that governs European competitions, although similar to the famous Super League that rich clubs tried a year ago: the franchises. The new owners of Chelsea are shareholders of the Los Angeles Dodgers, of the baseball league (MLB), as well as the Lakers or the Sparks, in the NBA and the WNBA basketball, respectively. The owners of Liverpool, Real Madrid's rival in this year's Champions League final, are also the owners of the baseball Red Sox or the hockey Pittsburgh Penguins; Manchester United shares ownership with the Buccaneers of the NFL; or the owners of Aston Villa and the Milwaukee Bucks, current NBA winners, are the same.
Compared to a European model in which promotions and demotions prevail according to sports results, the NBA or the NFL are closed leagues where the clubs own licenses that can be sold and bought or even change cities. The model is reminiscent of the Superliga promoted by 12 rich European clubs a year ago, where access was closed and the presence of the great teams was guaranteed, whatever their performance on the pitch. Fans from all over the continent revolted against this competition system and ended up leading to its suspension, although Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus maintain their commitment.
Soccer has gained interest in the US in recent years, both in terms of the number of followers and commercially. Investors see this business as an important source of income, especially for the television rights that, in the case of the Premier, reach the whole world. In fact, it is the league with the highest revenue in Europe and in 2019, before the pandemic, it reached a record of more than 6,000 million euros. Among the 20 European teams with the highest level of income, 10 are English, according to a report by Deloitte.
Not all American investments in England have been successful and there are cases of failures such as the previous owners of Liverpool or Sunderland, who ended up selling the team after falling two divisions in just one year. Outside the cradle of football, they have made large investments in other European leagues. Fiorentina, Genoa, Roma and AC Milan, in Italy; or the Olympique de Marseille, in France, are some of the known cases. In Spain there have also been examples. For example, Mallorca is owned by the owner of the Phoenix Suns and in turn has among its shareholders the historic basketball player Steve Nash. Recently, the former president of Telefónica, César Alierta, has sold the Zaragoza to a consortium of American investorsowners in turn of Inter Miami, of the North American league.
As for Chelsea's new owners, their investment interests go far beyond American sports franchises. Todd Boehly, the most visible face of the new consortium that owns the English club, is the president and founder of Eldridge Industries. This holding company has dozens of holdings ranging from insurance and investment funds to movies. Among his most peculiar assets is the fact of being co-owner of the rights to the songs of Bruce Springsteen or The Killers. In addition, he is the owner of MRC, an audiovisual production company that includes titles such as 'Daggers in the back', 'House of Cards' or 'Ozark'. He is also from a magazine division that includes titles like Rolling Stone or the Hollywood Reporter. Bohely is currently the interim CEO of the Foreign Press Association, an organization that organizes the Golden Globes and that this year had to be held without the press or the public due to the continuous scandals surrounding it.
Among the companies that make up Eldridge's catalog of shares there are also some such as the Le Pain Quotidien cafeteria chain or Cirque du Soleil. Also Gopuff, an online home delivery supermarket platform that has recently landed in Spain.
Mark Walter, another face of the offer, is Bohely's partner through the Guggenheim Partners fund. Nevertheless, as reported by the Financial Times, more than half of the money that will go to the purchase of Chelsea comes from Clearlake Capital. The financing is produced through venture capital funds headed by Clearlake and it is not ruled out that new investors may enter in the future, since these types of funds have time-limited bets, as the British media stressed. This is to date the most relevant operation for Clearlake, which until now had built its fortune on the purchase and sale of medium-sized companies in the US.