By: Rob Harris
Final bids are being prepared for European champion Chelsea and new business figures are being added to consortia as the process to end the ownership of sanctioned Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich steps up.
Four known bids are still under consideration to buy Chelsea, which could be sold for 3 billion pounds ($4 billion) given the interest that has emerged since Abramovich put the west London Premier League club up for sale six weeks ago.
Steve Pagliuca, co-owner of the NBA’s Boston Celtics, went public for the first time on Tuesday to confirm his plans to become a Premier League team owner that could see him have to relinquish his 55% controlling stake in Serie A team Atalanta.
The American cannot control two clubs playing in the same UEFA-organized European competition, though Atalanta is not in qualifying contention for next season.
“Later this week, we will submit a substantial and credible bid proposal,” Pagliuca said in a statement. “One that we expect will meet the respective requirements and regulations of the Premier League, UK Government and UEFA — and we pledge to honor our commitment to credibility and good guardianship of Chelsea Football Club from day one.”
Another bid, which is led by Chicago Cubs baseball owner Tom Ricketts, has been shrouded in criticism over Islamophobic comments by his father, Joe, that featured in leaked emails three years ago. The Ricketts family has been working to distance itself from the patriarch, and another business leader was announced on Tuesday as a new leading figure involved in the bid.
Karan Bilimoria, a Chelsea fan who founded the Cobra beer company in west London in 1989 and sits in the House of Lords, will become a director of the club if the Ricketts bid is successful, and serve as an ambassador.
“Tom and the wider group have a proven track record of running successful sports teams and a strong vision for both the club and the local community,” Bilimoria said in a statement.
Bilimoria is the outgoing president of the Confederation of British Industry.
“We have always been clear that having local expertise and perspectives on our bid is vital,” Tom Ricketts said in a statement. “Given Lord Bilimoria’s unparalleled credentials and his love for Chelsea, he is the perfect addition to our team.”
A rival bid features an existing American investor in a Premier League team: Josh Harris owns a 17% stake in south London club Crystal Palace. Harris, who is also owner of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, is part of a consortium fronted by former Liverpool and British Airways chairman Martin Broughton and World Athletics president Sebastian Coe.
A fourth consortium features Todd Boehly, part-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss, and Jonathan Goldstein, a London-based property investor who is CEO of Cain International.
Abramovich has been forced to sell Chelsea after he was sanctioned in Britain and his assets were frozen as part of a crackdown on oligarchs following Russia’s invasion in Ukraine.
The government has to sign off on the sale, which is being overseen by the New York-based Raine Group merchant bank, under the terms that allow the team to continue operating since Abramovich was sanctioned. Abramovich cannot profit from the proceeds of the sale.
“Our role is to consider an application for an amended license that authorises a sale of the club when it comes forward with a preferred bidder,” the British government said in a statement.
Chelsea has won 21 trophies in 19 years of Abramovich ownership, relying on his lavish investment to become one of Europe’s most successful clubs.
The ability of a new owner to continue significant funding of players could help to determine which bid prevails.
“Our first focus and goal is to make strategic investments to continue competing for championships and trophies,” Pagliuca said. “We will support our players and managers to make sure that Chelsea are habitual winners and title contenders, whether in the Premier League, Champions League or the Women’s Super League.