The four groups trying to buy Chelsea face an anxious wait after lodging improved bids for the club on Thursday. The merits of each offer are being assessed by Roman Abramovich and the club’s board, and Raine, the American bank handling the sale, is expected to take a preferred bidder to the UK government for approval early next week.
Raine’s input is likely to have an influence on the Chelsea hierarchy’s decision and he is believed that the highest bid will not necessarily be the successful one. Abramovich, who was hit with sanctions after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is also expected to take into account the club’s future wellbeing. The Russian billionaire wants Chelsea, who could be sold for as much as £2.75bn, to be in good hands.
The bidders all have a heavy background in American sports. They include a consortium led by the co-owner of the LA Dodgers, Todd Boehly, and one by the owners of the Chicago Cubs, Tom and Laura Ricketts.
A consortium fronted by Sir Martin Broughton and Sebastian Coe has received backing from the owners of the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team, Josh Harris and David Blitzer. The fourth bid is led by the Boston Celtics’ co-owner, Steve Pagliuca. All four groups say their bids are cash only and will not load Chelsea with debt.
Sources close to the process believe that a preferred bid could emerge after Monday. However there have been delays throughout and there could be no developments until the end of the next week. The Premier League will need to ensure each bidder will pass its fit and proper owners test, while the government’s main priority is ensuring that no money from the sale goes to Abramovich. The government will need to issue a license for the sale to go through.
At first glance Boehly’s bid appears to be the one with the least complications. He has partnered with his fellow Dodgers owner Mark Walter, the Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss and the London businessman Jonathan Goldstein. The group has backed from the investment firm Clearlake Capital. Sources have dismissed suggestions that Clearlake would take a majority shareholding. The Tory peer Daniel Finkelstein and the 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 that Abramovich’s ownership could not continue. It would have been able to complete a takeover by now had Raine not decided to hold an auction.
The other groups are firmly in contention, however. The Ricketts family have undeterred by Chelsea fans opposing their bid over historical accusations of Islamophobia. They have partnered with the hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin and Rock Entertainment Group, which is headed by Dan Gilbert, who is worth an estimated $31bn (£23.7bn). The Ricketts plan to add Karan Bilimoria, a Tory peer, Chelsea fan and the founder of Cobra Beer, to the board.
Broughton and Lord Coe are also seen as viable owners, even though they have not named all the investors behind their group. Their bid is complicated by Harris and Blitzer owning stakes in Crystal Palace which they would need to sell to become shareholders at Chelsea.
Pagliuca will need to reduce his shareholding in Atalanta if his bid is successful. He has been joined by the Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin and Elaine Andriejanssen, a businesswoman and Saverin’s wife, along with the chairman of the NBA, Larry Tanenbaum. Peter Guber, who owns part of the Dodgers with Boehly, is also involved with Pagliuca’s bid and there is backing from the former Disney chief executive Bob Iger, the B Capital co-founder Raj Ganguly, the venture capitalist Jim Breyer and entrepreneur Div Turakhia.
The groups have been informed they must commit to investing at least £1bn in Chelsea’s infrastructure, academy and women’s team. The bidders all have plans to renovate Stamford Bridge. They will want to give transfer backing to Thomas Tuchel, the manager of the men’s team, this summer.