The Premier League soccer team Chelsea, which was put up for sale days before the British government levied sanctions on its Russian owner for his ties to the Kremlin, is set to be sold to a group led by an American billionaire for more than $3 billion, the highest amount ever paid for a sports team.
The team announced Friday night that terms had been reached to sell the team to a new ownership group headed by Todd Boehly, an American who earned his billions through finance and investments and who is a part-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The group also includes the investment firm Clearlake Capital; Mark Walter, the controlling owner of the Dodgers; and the Swiss billionaire Hansjoerg Wyss.
For almost two decades Chelsea has been owned by Roman Abramovich, a Russian oil oligarch who pumped billions of dollars into the team to transform it from a mid-table Premier League club to one of the best teams in the world, winning multiple Premier League and Champions League titles with players like John Terry, Didier Drogba and N’Golo Kanté.
In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as scrutiny on Russian oligarchs was intensifying, Abramovich announced that he would sell the club, but before he could do so his assets, including Chelsea, were frozen by the British government. Chelsea was granted a waiver by the government to continue operating more or less as normal, but the British government has said that Abramovich will not benefit from any sale of the club.
The team’s statement confirming the sale said it was expected to close in late May, and that it was still subject to “all necessary regulatory approvals,” a throwaway line much of the time but one that could have enormous consequences here.
Abramovich has said that the proceeds from the sale — according to the statement from Chelsea, Boehly and his group are paying 2.5 billion British pounds, or a little over $3 billion — will go to a charitable foundation to support victims of the war in Ukraine.
But it has not been made clear how that would actually work, whether the beneficiaries would include Russians or how British officials would make sure none of the money would flow to Abramovich. The funds from the sale will be placed into an account that has been frozen by the government.
It is also not clear whether top Chelsea executives, who were hired and largely left to run the club by Abramovich, will stay in place.
Boehly, 48, made his fortune in investment banking and venture capital, eventually founding Eldridge Industries in 2015 to control his portfolio. Boehly has significant minority ownership stakes in the Dodgers, Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Sparks, but Chelsea will be the first sports team that he leads.
According to the statement announcing the sale, in addition to the $3 billion the new ownership group is paying for Chelsea, it will also invest more than $2 billion in the club, including investments in its stadiums, youth academy, women’s team and foundation.
The group headed by Boehly was chosen by Chelsea as the preferred bidder last week, after a short and frenzied sale process. Jim Ratcliffe, a British billionaire, made a late bid for the team, and Steve Pagliuca, who owns the Boston Celtics, and Josh Harris and David Blitzer, who owns the Philadelphia 76ers and the New Jersey Devils, also tried to buy Chelsea.