Billionaires are banking on the British establishment to bolster Chelsea bids

World Athletics President Sebastian Coe, City Grande Martin Broughton and Times columnist Daniel Finkelstein are making bids on behalf of deep-pocketed 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 brush up their credentials ahead of a Friday night deadline for first bids.

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

Among the obstacles to winning the £2billion battle for control of Chelsea is the government’s approval, which has the sole power to change the strict licenses it put in place, which now govern every aspect of the club’s operations check.

Coe and Broughton, who has chaired British American Tobacco and British Airways, are collaborating US private equity billionaire Josh Harris and David Blitzer on their offer, which is also supported by other global investors.

Broughton is well known in English football for his role in negotiating the sale of 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, an executive at Blackstone, are co-founders of a sports investment firm with a majority stake in basketball team Philadelphia 76ers and hockey team New Jersey Devils and a minority stake in Crystal Palace.

The couple understand they will need to divest their stake in Palace in order for a potential Chelsea purchase to go through, two of the people said.

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

The Ricketts family, who own the Chicago Cubs baseball team, said this week that they plan to bid alongside Ken Griffin, the hedge fund billionaire and founder of Citadel.

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Other admirers include Oaktree, the $166 billion wealth manager operated by Howard Marks in Los Angeles and Woody Johnson, 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 side with a global profile who regularly challenge for the biggest trophies in football. The deal will also be a test of a new owner’s ability to remain competitive once the club is no longer funded by Abramovich.

Abramovich, accused by the British government of having close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, List Chelsea for sale after Russia invaded Ukraine after initially attempting to hand over “stewardship” to the team’s charitable foundation. He was subsequently sanctioned by Britain.

The UK has given Chelsea a special license to allow the club to continue playing games but has prevented them from selling new tickets and merchandise, putting pressure on their finances.

The US merchant bank Raine Group, commissioned by Abramovich, is conducting the auction for the club.

The government has made it clear that no money can be passed on to Abramovich, which it is Subject to asset freeze in UK. He had already pledged to donate the net proceeds from the sale to charity and pay $1.5 billion in debt.

Raine said in a letter to potential buyers last week that the UK government would need to approve “both the source and the use of the funds” in connection with a sale of Chelsea, a condition that raises awkward questions for ministers.

Additional reporting by George Parker and Antoine Gara Billionaires are banking on the British establishment to bolster Chelsea bids

Adam Bradshaw

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