Why the chance to buy Chelsea sparked 'an American feeding frenzy'

Interest in Premier League ownership has soared in US in the last five or 10 years with would-be investors wowed by football's global reach

Todd Boehly's consortium has signed the purchase agreement to buy Chelsea Credit: AFP

An American-dominated league table of the most valuable sporting takeovers in history was not lost on Roman Abramovich when he called in New York bankers to gather his bids. 

NFL, NBA and MLB franchises - with the Glazers-owned Manchester United sandwiched in between - make up the majority of the top 10. Raine Group specialists, who had been in periodic contact with Abramovich since 2018, were ideally placed to tell their client confidently that the multi-million dollar offers would flood in when his intention to sell was announced on March 2. 

Within hours of the Chelsea statement, one leading football executive with Wall Street connections sent a text message to Telegraph Sport declaring "an American feeding frenzy". 

Eight weeks on, however, it is the Todd Boehly-led bid that now closes in on a deal that will break all records. The £4.25billion total deal is double what any consortium has ever been willing to pay for a sporting institution. American football's 2018 deal that saw the Carolina Panthers sold to hedge fund billionaire David Tepper for £1.76bn now trails some way behind in second place. 

Stan Kasten, president and CEO of the LA Dodgers, says his close ally and MLB co-investor Boehly fought so hard for Chelsea in part because US sport now realises "there's no stopping the Premier League now." 

Despite Middle East investment in the likes of PSG, Manchester City and Newcastle, Kasten and analysts agree it had been an "inevitability" US money would be at the front of the queue for the biggest deal of all. 

Boehly's most serious rival bids all had American links. The Chicago Cubs-owning Ricketts family and Steve Pagliuca and the co-owner of the Boston Celtics NBA team initially made the final shortlist. Even Sir Martin Broughton has significant Wall Street investment. Sir Jim Ratcliffe's "British-only" bid was never seriously entertained by Chelsea due to its timing. 

Kasten explains how interest in Premier League ownership has soared in America in "the last maybe five or 10 years". Existing investors in the NFL, NBA and MLB see more potential for growth in domestic English football, with TV network NBC now beaming wall-to-wall coverage. 

"There's a lot more attention over here on TV," Kasten says. "I've spent time with some Premier League teams and I see their reach around the world. I asked one team 'how many countries in the world do you have fans?' He looked at me and says 'all of them'. That's so great for us to hear, because that still is not a part of American baseball." 

Kasten had said his sport should look at the Premier League's formula while he worked as chairman on the Baseball International Committee. "We are just starting to try to expand around the globe," he said. "We've had the games in London for the last few years and this year, we're starting a more aggressive programme in other parts of the world, but we're nothing in terms of international reach compared to the Premier League. Just nothing." 

'The opportunities that come with owning Chelsea are limitless'

After so many previous false-dawns - Bobby Moore and Pele in the MLS in the 1970s; USA 94 and, more recently, David Beckham to LA Galaxy - this time the numbers prove the market has been cracked. Despite a levelling off in the domestic market in England, Premier League rights in the US rocketed in the last cycle agreed before Christmas. 

"The Premier League has secured a very, very significant, substantial increase on the previous deal," says Julian Aquilina, of market monitoring group Enders Analysis. "On what was effectively a billion US dollar deal over the course of six years, it is now at $2.7 billion over the course of six years. 

"That’s a two-and-a-half- to three-times increase in the value of the rights in the US which is very, very healthy and which the Premier League really needs to do because the revenue that it's getting from domestic broadcasters, the domestic rights, is basically factored down. In terms of the prospects going forward for the Premier League, it is basically all about trying to expand its revenues and gross revenues abroad, particularly in America." 

US-backed regimes are already in place at Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool, but Tom Scott, the chief marketing officer at branding specialists Pickstar, says investment interest will continue to "spike". 

"With the new betting laws opening up in the States and the range of ways to watch games now, it's a perfect storm for that interest to spike," he said. "Today, in the US almost 25 per cent of people between 18-34, and over a third (34 per cent) of those aged between 35-44 are either casual or avid fans." 

Despite concern expressed over the potential financial pressures brought about by the involvement of private equity firm Clearlake Capital, Karsten adds that the frenzied American interest in recent weeks can only be a good thing for Chelsea. "Chelsea is one of the great brands in the world, just like the Dodgers are one of the great brands in the world," he said. 

"It's iconic, it's historic -  the opportunities that come along with owning Chelsea are limitless. And  Todd  and Mark [Walter, a co-investor] are big thinkers - I'm sure they will make it successful."