Sunday, January 29

British Billionaire Jim Ratcliffe Bids $5.3 Billion for Chelsea FC

Jim Ratcliffe, a billionaire industrialist and one of Britain’s richest men, has made a $5.3 billion offer to buy Premier League soccer team Chelsea FC, a late and audacious proposal that dwarfs at least three other multibillion-dollar bids for the team.

The price, if accepted, would be the highest ever paid for a sports franchise., and includes a commitment to spend more than $2 billion on ensuring the team retains its place among global soccer’s elite.

“We are making this investment as fans of the beautiful game — not as a means to turn a profit,” Ratcliffe said in a statement issued by his petrochemicals business, Ineos, confirming his pursuit of Chelsea. “We do that with our core businesses. The club is rooted in its community and its fans. And it is our intention to invest in Chelsea FC for that reason.”

Ratcliffe’s enormous offer for the West London club — which arrived on Friday as Chelsea and the bank it had hired to manage the sale were weighing at least three other multibillion-dollar offers — caps a tumultuous 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 crippling sanctions by Britain’s government and others for his association with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Under Abramovich, Chelsea has become one of the biggest and most successful teams in global soccer. That has come at a huge cost, though, with the team losing about $1 million a week since Abramovich, then an unknown Russian businessman, took control of the team in 2003.

Ratcliffe, whose personal wealth might surpass Abramovich’s fortune, has suggested he would be willing to do the same. His offer from him will most likely be out of reach of the three bidders who were already being considered by the Raine Group, the New York-based merchant bank Chelsea has enlisted to handle the sale. Ratcliffe’s arrival has upended that process, but choosing him could make the sale speedier than it would have been.

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Any sale would require the approval of both the British government and the Premier League. The British government will need to issue a license, similar to one that allowed Chelsea to keep operating after Abramovich was placed on the sanctions list, and the Premier League must approve all new owners.

As part of his offer, Ratcliffe pledged 2.5 billion pounds, or $3.1 billion, to a charitable trust “to support the victims of the war.” That language is similar to that used by Abramovich when he first announced he was putting the club up for sale. It remains unclear how such a charity would work, or how the British government would ensure that none of the proceeds of the sale flowed to Abramovich.

Ratcliffe also pledged to invest a further $2.1 billion on Chelsea over the next 10 years, a figure that would also include the redevelopment of the club’s aging Stamford Bridge stadium, another of Abramovich’s stipulations.

Ratcliffe, a self-described fan of Chelsea’s Premier League rival Manchester United since his school days, is worth $10.6 billion, according to an index of the world’s richest people compiled by Bloomberg. Chelsea would not be Ratcliffe’s first foray into sports investment, or even soccer. He owns the French professional soccer club OGC Nice, located close to his home in Monaco, and also FC Lausanne-Sport, a team in Switzerland. But purchasing Chelsea would be of a different magnitude altogether. He has pledged to retain the team’s place among the world’s elite teams.

“We believe that London should have a club that reflects the stature of the city,” Ratcliffe said. “One that is held in the same regard as Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich. We intend Chelsea to be that club.”

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His bold, 11th-hour offer will anger the group of American-backed bidders who have spent the last few weeks engaged in an increasingly complicated auction devised by Raine’s co-founder Joe Ravitch, the banker handling the sale. Deadlines for final bids were extended on several occasions, and then late this week the three investment groups remaining in the process were told to increase their offers by a further $600 million.

The circumstances of the sale have been among the strangest seen in professional sports, creating a beauty pageant that brought together some of the wealthiest people in the world, but also celebrity athletes and unknown figures that appeared intent on using the sale to raise their own profiles . Raine has not commented during the bidding process, beyond an interview in which Ravitch made the startling — and as yet unsubstantiated — claim to the Financial Times that Chelsea and other Premier League teams could be worth $10 billion within five years.

At about the same time Ratcliffe went public with his bid, The Wall Street Journal, citing anonymous sources, reported that one of the finalists in the bidding, a group led by the Los Angeles Dodgers part-owner Todd Boehly, was set to enter exclusive talks to acquire Chelsea.

Boehly’s group had been challenged by a sprawling consortium bankrolled by Josh Harris and David Blitzer, members of the ownership group that controls the Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA, who this week added the Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton and the tennis star Serena Williams to their ranks .

The third finalist was a group led by Steve Pagliuca, co-owner of the NBA’s Boston Celtics. Pagliuca’s consortium includes Larry Tenenbaum, the chairman of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which owns the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, hockey’s Toronto Maple Leafs and Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC Pagliuca’s group was told on Friday that its bid was no longer under consideration.

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For Chelsea’s players, staff and fans, a sale cannot come soon enough. The club has been working under highly unusual financial constraints since the sanctions against Abramovich, described by the British government as a close associate of Putin. The special government license that allows the team to operate has left the club holding as many as 10,000 unsold tickets for its home games, and has forced the team to limit its travel budgets and close the team store.

The uncertainty over the future has affected the team on the field, too. Chelsea expects to lose two key defenders, Antonio Rüdiger and Andreas Christensen, when their contracts expire at the end of the season, and any talks about replacing them cannot take place until a replacement for Abramovich is found.

Of the bidders, Ratcliffe would appear to be the closest approximation to Abramovich for Chelsea fans used to having their team bankrolled by a single wealthy investor. The strategy was expensive — Abramovich has absorbed about $2 billion in losses during his tenure as owner — but successful: Chelsea enjoyed the biggest period of success in its history, becoming a serial contender for both domestic and international honors as well as the world’s best talent , and won five Premier League and two European championships.

“We will continue to invest in the team to ensure we have a first class squad of the world’s greatest players, coaches and support staff, in the men’s and women’s games,” said Ratcliffe.

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