British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe offers $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 football team Chelsea FC, a late and audacious proposal that dwarfs at least three others. multibillion-dollar offers for the team.

The price, if accepted, would be the highest ever paid for a sports franchise.

“We are making this investment as fans of the beautiful game – not as a means of making a profit,” Ratcliffe said in a statement released by his petrochemical company, Ineos, confirming his pursuit of Chelsea. “We do this 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 massive offer for the West London club – which arrived on Friday as Chelsea and the bank it hired to manage the sale were considering at least three other multibillion-dollar offers – caps a tumultuous and dizzying few weeks for Chelsea. Its current owner, Roman Abramovich, was forced to put the team up for sale when it was placed under sanctions by the British government and others for its association with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Under Abramovich, Chelsea became one of the biggest and most successful teams in global football. However, this came at a huge cost, with the team losing around $1 million a week since Abramovich, then an unknown Russian businessman, took control of the team in 2003.

Ratcliffe, whose personal wealth could surpass Abramovich’s fortune, suggested he would be willing to do the same. His offer will almost certainly be beyond the reach of the three bidders who were already being considered by the Raine Group, the New York merchant bank that Chelsea enlisted to handle the sale. Ratcliffe’s arrival changed that process, but choosing him could make the sale quicker than it otherwise would have been.

Any sale would require British government and Premier League approval. The British government will need to issue a licence, similar to the one that allowed Chelsea to continue 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, or $3.1 billion, to a charitable fund “to support the victims of war”. This language is similar to that used by Abramovich when he first announced that he was putting the club up for sale. It remains unclear how this charity would work, or how the British government would ensure that none of the proceeds from the sale flow to Abramovich.

Ratcliffe has pledged to invest a further $2.1 billion in Chelsea over the next 10 years, an amount that also includes the renovation of the club’s Stamford Bridge stadium, another of Abramovich’s stipulations.

Ratcliffe, who describes himself as a fan of Manchester United, Chelsea’s Premier League rivals 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 investing, or even football. He owns the French professional football club OGC Nice, located near his home in Monaco, as well as the Swiss team FC Lausanne-Sport. But buying Chelsea would be of an entirely different magnitude. He vowed to keep 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,” said Ratcliffe. “One that is kept in the same sense as Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich. We want Chelsea to be that club.”

His 11-hour bid will anger the group of American-backed bidders who have spent the past few weeks embroiled in an increasingly complicated auction devised by Raine’s co-founder Joe Ravitch, the banker responsible for the sale. Deadlines for final offers have been extended on several occasions, and later this week, the three investment groups remaining in the process were instructed to increase their offers by a further $600 million.

Raine did not comment during the bidding process, beyond an interview in which Ravitch made the surprising – and still unfounded – claim to the Financial Times that Chelsea and other Premier League teams could be worth $10 billion in five years.

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

Boehly’s group was challenged by a sprawling consortium funded by Josh Harris and David Blitzer, members of the ownership group that controls the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, which this week added Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton and tennis star Serena Williams to the list. 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, president of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which owns the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, Hockey’s Toronto Maple Leafs and Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC.

The circumstances of the sale are among the strangest seen in professional sports, creating a beauty contest that brought together some of the world’s richest people, famous athletes and unknown figures who showed up with the intention of using the sale to boost their own profiles.

For Chelsea’s players, staff and fans, a decision cannot be made anytime soon. The club works 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 left the club with up to 10,000 unsold tickets for its home games and forced the team to limit their travel budgets and close the team store.

Uncertainty about the future also affected the team on the field. Chelsea are hoping to lose two key centre-backs, Antonio Rüdiger and Andreas Christensen, when their contracts expire at the end of the season. Any conversation with potential replacements cannot take place until a new owner replaces Abramovich.

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