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America’s takeover of English soccer runs much deeper than Ted Lasso and the billionaires behind it bear no resemblance to the plucky underdog and fictional football manager.
With the British government’s approval of Todd Boehly’s record-breaking $5.3 billion Chelsea purchase, Americans now control eight of 20 English Premier League teams, including recently promoted Fulham. Meanwhile other wealthy US investors own various stakes across all levels of British soccer, like Burnley of the EFL Championship, the country’s second division.
Sanctions against outgoing Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich necessitated Wednesday’s sale – the most expensive in sports history – but Boehly, co-owner of Los Angeles Dodgers, was one of many US billionaires in the bidding, so other clubs could be poached by eager Americans in the coming years.
The Ricketts family, owners of the Chicago Cubs, as well as Boston Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca and Woody Johnson, the New York Jets boss and Donald Trump’s hand-picked UK ambassador, all made their own doomed runs at the Blues, as Chelsea is known.
Instead the winning bid was submitted by Boehly, who now joins the growing cabal of wealthy Yanks wading into England’s prized domain. The following is Mail Online’s look at American investors’ impact and influence within English soccer clubs:
New Chelsea owner Todd Boehly has become the latest US tycoon in Premier League football
AMERICAN EPL CLUB OWNERS
- Arsenal: Stan Kroenke
- Aston Villa: Wesley Edens
- Chelsea: Todd Boehly
- Crystal Palace: Joshua Harris, David S. Blitzer and John Textor
- Fulham: Shahid Khan
- Leeds: 49ers Enterprises
- Liverpool: John Henry’s Fenway Sports Group
- Manchester United: The Glazers
Owner/Investor: Stan Kroenke
Net worth: $10.7 billion
Other clubs/franchises: Los Angeles Rams (NFL), Colorado Rapids (MLS), Denver Nuggets (NBA), Colorado Avalanche (NHL)
Style: Not afraid to upset supporters in order to benefit a club or franchise, as proven by his controversial decision to move the Rams out of St Louis and back to Los Angeles in 2016..
The relocation, which included forking out $5 billion on a new state-of-the-art stadium, broke hearts in his hometown of St Louis, yet six years on the Rams stand as the reigning Super Bowl champions and the third most-valuable franchise in the NFL.
Kroenke’s Colorado Rapids outfit finished second in the overall MLS standings last year before suffering defeat in the playoff quarterfinals, while the Colorado Avalanche have produced top-two finishes in their last three NHL campaigns and are currently threatening to advance to the Western Conference Finals with a 3-1 series lead over the St. Louis Blues.
The Denver Nuggets, meanwhile, have yet to advance to the NBA Finals since Kroenke purchased the team in 2000.
Stan Kroenke has drawn plenty of criticism from Arsenal supporters in his time as owner
His LA Rams franchise, however, have enjoyed great success, winning last season’s Super Bowl
However, Arsenal has collected four FA Cups since he took the reins, although the club has not qualified for the Champions League since 2017. A lack of spending has cost the Gunners over the past decade, with research from Swiss Ramble in 2020 showing that Kroenke had not put a single penny into the club in five years.
Influence: Kroenke’s son, Josh, is a non-executive director at the Emirates and is understood to have spelled the end for both Arsene Wenger and Unai Emery in north London. Vinai Venkatesham is the current CEO, but major decisions lie with Kroenke.
Popularity: The tycoon was already a deeply unpopular figure amongst Arsenal fans due to his thriftiness, and resentment from the club’s supporters only intensified during last year’s European Super League fiasco.
The Gunners were one of six Premier League teams who originally agreed to join the controversial breakaway league, which sparked mass protests throughout the country.
Like the rest of their English colleagues, Kroenke and Co. were forced to make an embarrassing U-turn on the decision to sign up, but Arsenal supporters remain desperate for him to cash in on the club and make way for a more free-spending owner.
Kroenke’s son, Josh (left), is a non-executive director with significant influence at the Emirates
Owner/Investor: Wesley Edens
Net worth: $4.2 billion
Other clubs/franchises: Milwaukee Bucks (NBA)
Style: Edens has a solid track record in his only other sporting venture as co-owner of the NBA’s Bucks. Since Edens and partner Marc Lasry bought the team for $550 million in 2014, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Co. enjoyed a rapid rise to claim their first title in a half century last season.
Upon purchasing the Bucks he pledged to keep them in Wisconsin as well as build a new 18,000-capacity arena, a promise he delivered on when the Fiserv Forum opened its doors in 2018.
The 60-year-old has spent the last four years with Villa after acquiring a 55 percent stake alongside co-chairman Nassef Sawiris, and during that time they have managed to relieve the club of all debt through significant investment.
A net spend of $313 million in the last four seasons has helped transform Villa from a Championship side into a mid-table Premier League team, while attracting the likes of Brazil’s Philippe Coutinho, England’s Ollie Watkins and manager Steven Gerrard to the Birmingham-based club.
Wesley Edens (left) took the Aston Villa reins in 2018 alongside co-chairman Nassef Sawiris
The pair have reduced Villa’s debt and guided them back to the Premier League in that time
Influence: Both Edens and Sawiris work alongside chief executive Christian Purslow, who was credited with bringing Gerrard to Villa Park at the end of last year. Purslow and sporting director Johan Lange are tasked with devising the club’s transfer strategy along with Gerrard, while any major decisions fall to the ownership.
Popularity: The decision to sell Jack Grealish to Manchester City for £100m initially went down badly with supporters, but Edens and Sawiris have used that fee to reinvest in the squad. Overall, the new ownership has brought Villa forward over the past four years and supporters are optimistic about their future under the duo.
Owner/Investor: ALK Capital
Net worth: Unknown
Other clubs/franchises: N/A
Style: While the purchase of Burnley represents the US investment firm’s first foray into football, managing partner Alan Pace has significant experience as CEO and President of MLS outfit Real Salt Lake.
Pace spent close to two years with the franchise before departing in August 2008, although his work did play a pivotal role in the club’s 2009 MLS Championship triumph – the only title in team history.
Burnley’s new ownership group have only been in place since the end of 2020, yet it is already clear they are prepared to make the tough choices when required.
Alan Pace and US investment firm ALK Capital took control at Burnley back in December 2020
With their Premier League status under threat, ALK made the controversial call to fire longtime Clarets boss Sean Dyche in April after 10 years with the team. It initially appeared a masterstroke when interim manager Mike Jackson picked up 10 points in his first four matches, but a subsequent run of three defeats in four games resulted in a demotion.
Sky Sports pundit Roy Keane felt ALK paid the price for pulling the trigger on Dyche too soon, insisting he had ‘no sympathy’ after their risky sacking proved a failure.
Influence: Pace took on the role of chairman after ALK’s takeover in December 2020 and has been the driving force behind on and off-pitch decisions ever since, including the call to part company with Dyche.
Popularity: Dyche’s dismissal sparked outrage amongst the Burnley faithful back in April. Many felt Pace had signed the club’s death warrant by handing their beloved boss a pink slip, and in the end their worst fears were confirmed when Jackson’s team was relegated on the final day of the season.
After bolstering the squad with just $50 million worth of signings in their relegation campaign and offloading striker Chris Wood to rivals Newcastle, ALK has got off to a miserable start at Turf Moor and need to secure an instant return to the top flight to get fans on board.
Pace’s decision to part company with Sean Dyche back in April was a highly controversial one
The Clarets were ultimately relegated to the Championship in the first season of his ownership
Owner/Investor: Todd Boehly
Net worth: $4.5 billion
Other clubs/franchises: Los Angeles Dodgers (MLB), Lakers (NBA) and Sparks (WNBA)
Style: A savvy businessman with a track record of success.
Boehly and a group of investors inherited one of the most badly mismanaged teams in North American sports when they bought the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012. The club had not reached the playoffs in three years and had failed to win a World Series since 1988. Since then, a series of owners, including Rupert Murdoch, squandered the team’s abundant resources, such as local cable revenue and a productive farm system.
A decade on from their $2.1 billion takeover, the Dodgers are now a franchise revived after ending their 32-year title drought in 2020 and progressing to the playoffs in each of the last nine seasons.
Much of their success of the past decade is due to Boehly, who booked an $8.7 billion deal between Time Warner Cable and the Dodgers in 2013 to create regional network SportsNet LAto broadcast all team games.
The cash generated from that deal flowed back into the insurance funds used to buy the Dodgers, before it was reinvested into the team’s payroll. Their dramatic resurrection under Boehly is certainly encouraging for Chelsea fans.
He is also part of the ownership groups with the LA Lakers and LA Sparks, the city’s men and women basketball teams which have enjoyed great success before and after his arrival.
Although Jeanie Buss remains the Lakers principal owner, Boehly’s tenure with the team is coming off a rocky season, in which Los Angeles missed the playoffs as both LeBron James and Anthony Davis struggled with injuries. Coach Frank Vogel has since been fired and the team is hoping to hire his replacement in the coming days.
In Boehly Chelsea are getting a businessman with a solid track record in the sporting world
The LA Dodgers co-owner has impressed Blues fans with his apparent desire to claim titles
Influence: Boehly’s consortium, Clearlake Capital Group, L.P, also consists of Swiss businessman Hansjörg Wyss and Dodgers co-owner Mark Walter. Current Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck and director Marina Granovskaia are expected to remain on board despite their previous relationship with Abramovich. Nevertheless, as controlling owner Boehly’s voice will be the most significant upstairs.
Popularity: While he is yet to officially start work in west London, Boehly has impressed Chelsea supporters with his strong comments on the value of winning titles.
He told Bloomberg in 2019: ‘The opportunity we had with the Dodgers was really about part-ownership with Los Angeles, how are we going to win, how are we going to drive championships and how are we going to build passion. If you look at what the Premier League offers, it’s all of those things.’
Owner/Investor: Joshua Harris, David S. Blitzer and John Textor
Net worth: Harris $7.1 billion, Blitzer $1.6 billion, Textor unknown
Other clubs/franchises: New Jersey Devils (NHL), Philadelphia 76ers (NBA), Real Salt Lake (MLS), Botafogo (Brazilian Serie A)
Style: Harris and Blitzer partnered to buy the Philadelphia 76ers in 2011 and the New Jersey Devils in 2013, but the duo have yet to claim a title with either franchise and have failed to qualify for the NHL playoffs in eight of their nine seasons with the Devils.
Since matching co-owner Steve Parish’s stake at London’s Selhurst Park, they have overseen mid to low-table finishes in the Premier League, largely a result of their mediocre spending of $200 million over the past five years.
Last year the trio was joined on the board by Textor, who forked out $109 million for a 40 percent stake in the club.
The Missouri-born businessman also purchased 90 percent of top Brazilian team Botafogo back in January, meaning he now has two new football ventures on his CV.
Joshua Harris (left) and David S. Blitzer (right) have been Crystal Palace co-owners since 2015
US businessman John Textor also acquired a 40 percent stake in the Eagles last year
Influence: Parish remains Palace chairman despite the influx of investors in recent years, with Harris and Blitzer enjoying the same share, yet it is Textor who now has significant influence over board-level decision after taking 40 percent of the club.
Popularity: The 2021/22 campaign saw Palace make the greatest leap of their new US ownership, with a young team spearheaded by Patrick Vieira securing a 12th-place Premier League finish and reaching the FA Cup semifinals. After spending $100 million on reinforcements last summer, Textor, Harris and Blitzer have helped breathe new life into Palace and they have the backing of supporters to progress even further next season.
Owner/Investor: Shahid Khan
Net worth: $7 billion
Other clubs/franchises: Jacksonville Jaguars (NFL)
Style: A wealthy sports mogul with big ambition. Khan, who began his path to becoming the 291st richest man on the planet by selling car bumpers, took on his first sports project when he acquired the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2012 – becoming the first member of an ethnic minority to own an NFL franchise.
In Jacksonville, the Jaguars have one of the NFL’s smallest markets and only a brief, unimpressive track record since joining the league as an expansion team in 1995. But under the Pakistani-American billionaire, the Jags have enjoyed some success, including an AFC South divisional crown in 2017.
More recently, Khad made the ambitious hire of head coach Urban Meyer, only to fire the decorated former Ohio State icon before the end of the season. During his tenure in Jacksonville, Meyer skipped a team flight only to get caught canoodling with a young woman at a bar he owns in Columbus, Ohio, and was accused of kicking a player during training camp. That player, placekicker Josh Lambo, is now suing the Jaguars for a hostile work environment.
Meyer, who won two national titles at Florida and another at Ohio State, was fired in December with a 2-11 record.
In his time at Fulham, Khan has been more than prepared to spend big when the club has needed reinforcements. Over the past four seasons the Cottagers have net expenses of $187 million, helping them storm to the Championship title and a Premier League promotion in 2021/22.
Yet, along with son and vice-chairman Tony and manager Marco Silva, Khan needs to nail their summer recruitment after heading straight back down in their last two top-flight campaigns.
Tony Khan (left) has rubbed Fulham fans up the wrong way during his father’s ownership
Influence: As vice-chairman, Tony likes to be in the thick of things and even conducted the interview with Silva prior to his appointment as manager last year. While his father is not as heavily involved, both he and Shahid hold all the power when it comes to key decisions at the Cottage.
Popularity: Tony’s outspoken nature has often rubbed Fulham fans up the wrong way over the years, especially when former manager Scott Parker took aim at him on a number of occasions throughout his stint in charge. Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher even branded Khan a ‘clown’ back in 2020.
Though despite calls for Tony to resign from his own position, Fulham supporters have never protested against his father’s ownership and are now upbeat ahead of their Premier League return.
Owner/Investor: 49ers Enterprises
Net worth: $4.1 billion
Other clubs/franchises: San Francisco 49ers (NFL)
Style: They may have gone without a Super Bowl win since the 1994 season, but the 49ers have a pair of NFC crowns and Super Bowl appearances since 2012.
Denise York, majority owner of the 49ers, took over from her father Edward Debartolo Sr. in 2001, but it is the franchise’s investment arm 49ers Enterprises which initially bought a 15 percent stake in Leeds in 2018. Earlier this year that figure was increased to 37 percent.
Leeds have produced a net spend of almost $187 million since the NFL outfit hopped on board four years, which has helped them gain Premier League promotion in 2020. Two years on, the club remains in the top flight after narrowly avoiding relegation this season.
Influence: Italian businessman Andrea Radrizzani is majority shareholder at Elland Road with his company Aser Group Holding Pte Ltd owning a 56 percent stake, meaning he remains the controlling owner. Nevertheless, The Athletic has revealed that 49ers Enterprises has an option to take 100 percent of Leeds for a staggering $501 million in 2024.
Popularity: Leeds fans were critical of the 49ers when Radrizzani made the call to part company with Marcelo Bielsa, who guided them back to the Premier League after 16 years, and replace him with American coach Jesse Marsch earlier this season. The United faithful felt their US co-owners were the driving force behind the decision to sack Bielsa, a deeply popular figure at Elland Road. Fortunately, Marsch managed to keep the club in the top flight to take the spotlight off Bielsa’s dismissal.
The San Francisco 49ers’ investment arm bought shares in Leeds in 2018 and plan to take full control of the club by 2024
Owner/Investor: John W. Henry (Fenway Sports Group)
Net worth: $4.5 billion
Other clubs/franchises: Boston Red Sox (MLB) and Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL)
Style: A modest and timid persona in public but an owner highly motivated by success behind the scenes.
Liverpool have not spent as much case as their Premier League counterparts since Henry’s Fenway Sports Group bought the team in 2010. Research from Swiss Ramble in 2021 shows their net spending of $720 million was almost half that of Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United’s.
Yet, smart recruitment in the Anfield boardroom has seen FSG propel the Reds back to the top of world football in the same way Henry managed with the Red Sox.
The MLB franchise had gone 86 years without a World Series title before 2004, when the Sox won the first of four in 17 years. Since then, FSG bought the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins in a reported $900 million deal last year, and added a notable investor in LeBron James, who already had a minority stake in Liverpool FC.
John W. Henry has helped propel Liverpool back to the top of world football in recent years
The Reds have won four trophies in the last three seasons and could add another this weekend
And it was under Henry’s ownership that Liverpool became English champions for the first time in three decades.
Henry and FSG’s decision to offload Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona for $162 million in January 2019 and use the money to sign Virgil van Dijk and Alisson proved a masterstroke, with the duo and a host of other inspired transfers delivering four trophies over the past three seasons – and another Champions League final beckons on Saturday night.
Influence: Henry has often credited the two Mikes, part-owner Gordon and departing sporting director Edwards, with Liverpool’s success in recent years. He installs faith in his trusted lieutenants but remains interested in the club’s activities.
Popularity: In the first five years of their ownership Henry and FSG came under fire from Liverpool fans while being outspent by their top-flight rivals. However, their shrewd business of late and successful decision to replace Brendan Rodgers with Jurgen Klopp in 2015 has transformed their fortunes and finally won fans over.
LeBron James bought a 2-percent stake in Liverpool FC for $6.5 million in 2011. He has since become an investor in the Fenway Sports Group, the controlling owners of Liverpool FC
Owner/Investor: The Glazers
Net worth: $4.5 billion
Other clubs/franchises: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFL)
Style: Driven by profits and reluctant to communicate with fans.
The Glazers’ buyout of Manchester United in 2005 was met by fierce opposition from supporters, and 13 years on their ownership remains the subject of protests.
The American tycoons have not been afraid to invest in the team over the years, spending an estimated $1.2 billion on transfers since their arrival 15 years ago. Yet, United also spent around $877 million during that period on interest of loans taken out by the Glazers.
United remains in almost $626 million worth of debt as a result, with only $231.7 million spent on infrastructure such as enhancing Old Trafford and the club’s training facilities.
Red Devils legend Gary Neville has criticized the Glazers for not resetting the culture of the club since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure in 2013, which was the last year they claimed a Premier League title.
The Glazers have been deeply unpopular figures since arriving at Man United back in 2005
Meanwhile the Buccaneers, owned by the Glazers since 1995, finally got their hands on the Super Bowl’s Lombardi Trophy again at the end of the 2020 season – 18 years after their only other NFL title. The NFL franchise had gone 13 years without a playoff appearance, but has enjoyed brighter days since their 2020 acquisition of quarterback Tom Brady, who recently reneged on his decision to retire and will return to the Bucs for a third season at age 45.
Influence: Since Malcolm Glazer’s death in 2014, his sons Avram and Joel have stepped up as co-chairmen at Old Trafford. They worked closely with Ed Woodward before his recent departure as executive vice-chairman, with Richard Arnold recently replacing him.
Popularity: The Glazers are still overwhelmingly unpopular figures in Manchester, especially after their significant involvement in last year’s European Super League proposal.
United supporters invaded the pitch at Old Trafford before a home outing against Liverpool to protest against the club’s involvement, forcing the fixture to be postponed. Another protest was carried out at the end of April as fans continue to call for change upstairs.
Fans have been protesting against the United owners for a number of years at Old Trafford
Owner/Investor: Albert Tripp Smith
Net worth: > $1.25 billion
Other clubs/franchises: N/A
Style: A hugely successful businessman with little experience in sports.
Smith was the co-founder of GSO Capital Partners, a company he eventually sold to the Blackstone Group for $1.25 billion in 2008 but continues to manage.
After watching West Ham on a number of occasions, he purchased an eight percent stake in the club in 2017 as an individual and not on behalf of Blackstone.
Influence: David Sullivan (38.8 percent), Daniel Kretinsky (27 percent) and David Gold (25 percent) enjoy greater shares at the London Stadium than Smith, meaning his influence in the boardroom is somewhat lower than his co-owners.
Popularity: Any gripes from supporters are still directed mainly towards Sullivan and Gold, with Smith’s low state in the club meaning he avoids scrutiny or responsibility for crucial decisions at board level.
ABRAMOVICH OUT, BOEHLY IN
Roman Abramovich’s 19-year ownership of Chelsea is ending after the British government approved the sale of the Premier League club by the sanctioned Russian oligarch to a consortium fronted by Los Angeles Dodgers part-owner Todd Boehly.
The government had to be sure that Abramovich, who was sanctioned over his links to Russian President Vladimir Putin after the invasion of Ukraine, did not profit from the enforced sale of the club that his investment turned into one of the most successful in European football.
The reigning FIFA Club World Cup winners and 2021 European champions will be sold for 2.5 billion pounds ($3.1 billion) – the highest price ever for a sports team – with Premier League approval already granted on Tuesday.
Chelsea has been operating under a government license since Abramovich’s assets were frozen in March and it expires on May 31.
American businessman Todd Boehly (pictured) attends the English Premier League soccer match between Chelsea and Watford at Stamford Bridge stadium in London on May 22. Roman Abramovich’s 19-year ownership of Chelsea is ending after the British government approved the sale of the Premier League club by the sanctioned Russian oligarch to a consortium fronted by the Los Angeles Dodgers part-owner
Russian sanctions enforced by the UK pressured Roman Abramovich to sell Chelsea
‘Given the sanctions we placed on those linked to Putin and the bloody invasion of Ukraine, the long-term future of the club can only be secured under a new owner,’ British Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said. ‘We are satisfied the proceeds of the sale will not benefit Roman Abramovich or other sanctioned individuals.’
There were weeks of discussions between officials from Chelsea and the government over securing the guarantee Abramovich could not gain financially. The sale proceeds will initially go into a frozen account before going to charity.
‘We will now begin the process of ensuring the proceeds of the sale are used for humanitarian causes in Ukraine, supporting victims of the war,’ the British government said in a statement. ‘The steps today will secure the future of this important cultural asset and protect fans and the wider football community.’
Delays approving the sale centered on the fate of 1.6 billion pounds ($2 billion) loaned to Chelsea by Abramovich since 2003 that provided the funding to build a men’s squad that won 21 trophies during his ownership. Government assurances were needed from Abramovich, who has not condemned Russia’s war in Ukraine, about writing off the debt that was linked to companies he controlled.
Boehly has already started attending Chelsea games in recent weeks since the club approved the sale to the consortium that also features Dodgers principal owner Mark Walter, Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss, and funding from private equity firm Clearlake Capital.
It was a hotly-contested sale process, with four groups in the final running, before Boehly’s group was chosen on May 7 after guaranteeing 1.75 billion pounds ($2.2 billion) of investment in the team.
A general view of of the Bovril Gate entrance at Stamford Bridge, home of Chelsea FC, after the UK Government announced it has issued a license that permits the sale of Chelsea to the Todd Boehly/Clearlake Consortium and is ‘now satisfied that the full proceeds of the sale will not benefit Roman Abramovich’
Chelsea fans have become accustomed to lavish spending under Abramovich, with more than $1 billion net spending on players.
Chelsea’s ability to sell match tickets and commit to new player spending has been curbed by the sanctions but now the new ownership is set to provide investment to manager Thomas Tuchel to strengthen the squad.
The certainty is that Chelsea will be playing in the Champions League next season after finishing third in the Premier League last Sunday despite the off-field turmoil. The women’s team won a league and cup double with a squad funded by Abramovich’s investment.
Chelsea had won the men’s championship only once – in 1955 – when Abramovich bought the club in 2003. Helped by expensive signings, the club won the Premier League two years later and has added four more since then, most recently in 2017.
Investment is needed in Stamford Bridge. Chelsea has the smallest and most dated stadium of the Premier League’s most successful clubs, with plans for a rebuild of the 41,000-capacity venue put on hold by Abramovich in 2018 when British-Russian diplomatic tensions deepened.
The $3.1 billion cost of Chelsea eclipses the $2.3 billion paid in 2018 for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers.
As well as being part owner of the MLB’s Dodgers, Boehly also has minority stakes in the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers and WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks.
– By The Associated Press