World Athletics president Sebastian Coe, City grandee Martin Broughton and Times columnist Daniel Finkelstein take on bids on behalf of entrenched billionaires in the race to buy Chelsea football club.

Their involvement shows how wealthy investors, mostly from the US, are courting the British establishment to polish their credentials ahead of a Friday night first bid deadline.

Chelsea are being sold under extraordinary circumstances after Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch who has owned the club since 2003, was placed under sanctions by the British government earlier this month.

Obstacles to winning the £2bn battle for control of Chelsea include obtaining approval from the government, which alone has the power to change the strict licensing it has put in place that now affect every aspect of the control the club’s activities.

Coe and Broughton, chairman of British American Tobacco and British Airways, are teaming up with US private equity billionaires Josh Harris and David Blitzer on their offer, which is also backed by other global investors.

Broughton is known in English football for his role in negotiating the sale of the Liverpool football club when the club faced administration in 2010, while Coe is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and former chairman of the London 2012 Games.

Harris, a former executive at Apollo Global Management, and Blitzer, a senior executive at Blackstone, co-founded a sports investment firm that owns a majority stake in the basketball players Philadelphia 76ers and hockey players New Jersey Devils, along with a minority stake in Crystal Palace.

The pair expect to have to divest Palace stakes to allow a potential Chelsea deal to go through, two of the people said.

Finkelstein, a Tory colleague, is teaming up with Todd Boehly, the American financier who co-owns the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, on his offer, which is also backed by US investment firm Clearlake Capital.

The Ricketts family, which owns the Chicago Cubs baseball side, said they will bid this week along with Ken Griffin, the hedge fund billionaire and founder of Citadel.

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Other suitors include Oaktree, the $166 billion asset manager run by Howard Marks in Los Angeles, and Woody Johnson, the owner of the New York Jets American football team and former US Ambassador to the UK.

The sale of the West London club is a rare opportunity to buy a ‘big six’ Premier League club with a global profile that regularly competes for the biggest trophies in football. The deal will also be a test of a new owner’s ability to remain competitive as the club will no longer get a bankroll from Abramovich.

Abramovich, accused by the British government of having close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, put Chelsea up for sale after Russia invaded Ukraine after originally attempting to transfer “stewardship” to the team’s charitable foundation. He was subsequently sanctioned by the UK.

The UK has granted Chelsea a special license to enable the club to continue playing matches, but the club has stopped the sale of new tickets and merchandise, putting a strain on its finances.

The American investment bank Raine Group, appointed by Abramovich, is leading the auction for the club.

The government has made it clear that no money can be passed on to Abramovich, who is subject to a UK asset freeze. He had already pledged to donate the net proceeds of the sale to charity and to cancel £1.5bn in debt owed to him by the entity he owns Chelsea with.

Raine said in a letter to potential buyers last week that the British government would have to “approve both the source and use of funds” involved in a Chelsea sale, a provision that raises tough problems for ministers.

Additional reporting by George Parker and Antoine Gara


This post Billionaires bank on UK establishment to polish Chelsea bids was original published at “https://www.ft.com/content/3830c75c-a01e-48ea-b74c-58e8b5fe0195”

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