L.A. Dodgers and Philadelphia 76ers owners battling it out for Russian oligarch’s soccer jewel: Meet the U.S. bidders in the final round to snap up Chelsea F.C.

March 25, 2022, 2:35 PM UTC

Three billionaire American groups have made it through to the last phase of the bidding war for Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea Football Club.

The three groups who’ve so far made it to the final round, according to Bloomberg, are Todd Boehly; Josh Harris and David Blitzer; and the Ricketts family teamed with Ken Griffin.

The London soccer team is expected to fetch some $4 billion.

The bids were submitted last Friday and, while more finalists may be added, the Raine Group—the New York-based merchant bank handling the sale for Chelsea’s owner—has already told some that they haven’t made the cut.

The Saudi Media Group and U.K. property developer Nick Candy were informed that they had been eliminated from the process.

The U.S. billionaires in the final round are looking to get in on the rare opportunity to own one of the top clubs in the English Premier League—Europe’s richest football division. But the price they are willing to pay isn’t the only variable that will be taken into consideration.

The new owners will need to pass the Premier League’s “fit and proper” tests, which examine the financial and ethical soundness of aspiring owners, and ensure that they do not control other clubs.

Bids will also be graded on how much of the offer will go to charity, how much will be put toward renovating the club’s Stamford Bridge stadium, and how much funding will be available to invest in the Chelsea club itself.

The front runners

The two front runners are former Gugenheim Partners executive and Los Angeles Dodgers owner Todd Boehly, and a consortium led by Apollo Global Management co-founder Josh Harris and David Blitzer, according to the FT.

Boehly is the co-founder, chairman and CEO of Eldridge Industries, a holding company headquartered in Greenwich, Conn. He was a partner at investment and advisory firm Guggenheim Partners, and in 2015 bought a number of assets he had collected while at Guggenheim to found Eldridge.

Eldridge Investments has stakes in real estate firms Kennedy Wilson and Blackbrook Capital, data tech companies Dataminr and Knoema, digital health platform Wellthy, and mobile game developer Tripledot Studios. It also has stakes in hospitality group Aurify Brands, which owns restaurant chains such as Le Pain Quotidien and Chuck E. Cheese; media company Penske Media, which owns Billboard, Rolling Stone, and the Hollywood Reporter: and movie producer A24.

Boehly previously made a bid to buy Chelsea in 2019, but Abramovich rejected the takeover.

The leaders of the other frontrunning group, Josh Harris and David Blitzer, own and run Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, which owns the NBA team Philadelphia 76ers, the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, the NBA G League team the Delaware Blue Coats, and the American Hockey League’s Utica Comets. The group also owns a number of stadiums and sports venture capital and tech firms.

Like Boehly, Harris and Blitzer have past experience dealing with English Premier League team M&A, having looked into buying Birmingham-based Aston Villa. Then in 2015, Harris and Blitzer each bought an 18% stake in the South London football club Crystal Palace, matching the stake owned by team chairman Steve Parish, thus giving the three control of the club.

The third final round group looking into buying Chelsea is the Ricketts family, which owns Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs.

The Ricketts have teamed with the billionaire U.S hedge fund manager Ken Griffin, although the group is not a frontrunner, according to the FT.

Thomas Ricketts is the chairman and co-founder of Incapital, a corporate bond investor, and together with his siblings, Laura, Pete and Todd, serve as the board of directors to the Chicago Cubs team. Their father is TD Ameritrade Holding founder J. Joseph Ricketts.

Ken Griffin is founder, chief executive officer the hedge fund Citadel. Griffin has an estimated net worth of around $20 billion making him the 45th richest person in the U.S.

The club’s prowess

A £3 billion deal (close to $4 billion) to acquire Chelsea would be the most ever paid in European football club history. The only deal coming close was the 2005 acquisition of Manchester United Football Club by the U.S. Glazer family, for £700 million.

On March 2, a little more than a week after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich announced he was selling the club. Ten days later, the Premier League banned Abramovich from running Chelsea after he was sanctioned by the British government, along with a number of other oligarchs.

Abramovich acquired Chelsea in 2003 for £140 million and since then has invested hundreds of millions of pounds in acquiring star players. In 2004, he appointed manager José Mourinho, under whom Chelsea won back-to-back league championships, making it the fifth English team to do so since the Second World War.

His quick sacking of managers led to a revolving door of team leaders that has included Carlo Ancelotti, Antonio Conte and, now, Thomas Tuchel.

Under Abramovich’s ownership the club has won 18 major trophies. Chelsea now sits third in the Premier League.

March 25, 2022: This story has been updated to clarify Ken Griffin’s position at Citadel.

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