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The owners of English Premier League soccer giants Chelsea have become the latest team to join the multi-club ownership model by buying a majority stake in French top-division side Racing Club (RC) Strasbourg.
BlueCo, the consortium which purchased Chelsea in May 2022 – headed up by businessman Todd Boehly and investment firm Clearlake Capital – officially confirmed the purchase of a stake in the Ligue 1 club on June 22.
According to reports by multiple UK and French media outlets, BlueCo is paying €75 million ($81 million) for close to 100% ownership.
Marc Keller – previously the largest Strasbourg shareholder – will stay on as president of the French club, as will his current management team. He took that position in June 2012, and before the takeover held a 27% stake in the team (which overall previously had 11 shareholders).
BlueCo plans to collaborate with Racing through the exchange of information with Chelsea and the other teams which the owners are involved with.
Why it matters
Boehly and Clearlake have made no secret of their desire to acquire other European soccer clubs and place them under BlueCo control, and have been looking for suitable teams since mid-2022.
Speaking at a conference last September, the Chelsea co-owner said: “We’re going to be continuously adding resources. We’ve talked about having a multi-club model. I would love to continue to build out the footprint. There are different countries where there are advantages to having a club.”
Other multi-club models present in European soccer include those at the 12-team City Football Group (CFG) and Red Bull (RB Leipzig and Red Bull Salzburg).
Referencing Red Bull, Boehly said last year: “Red Bull does a really good job at Leipzig and at Salzburg, both of which are playing in the UEFA Champions League, so they’ve figured out how to make that work. You also have Manchester City which has a very big network of clubs.”
Brighton is another Premier League club with a multi-club model – their owner, Tony Bloom, owns Belgian side Union Saint-Gilloise.
What remains to be seen is whether Boehly and Clearlake view Strasbourg as the extent of their ambitions in the short term, or whether this acquisition is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to other purchases.
Conrad Wiacek, head of analysis at GlobalData Sport, delves into the commercial implications of the deal: “Chelsea will be hoping to leverage ownership of other soccer clubs to make Chelsea a commercial force. CFG have managed to do this by negotiating to have their principal partner Etihad across all shirts in their portfolio, from New York City to Melbourne City.
“In terms of traditional sponsorship measurement metrics, where the seconds a logo is on screen is king, the logic is that CFG can charge more for their sponsorships due to the exposure generated. While some may question the relationship between the brand and the ownership group, it is undeniable that the strategy is effective.
“While Chelsea seems to have struggled in attracting a front-of-shirt partner after the end of the relationship with 3 after an underwhelming season, the expectation will be that commercial deals will become larger as more clubs join the Boehly-Clearlake stable.”
Wiacek adds, looking at the bigger picture of where Boehly and Clearlake will turn their attention next: “With the CFG blueprint to follow, clubs in the new Indian Super League, J League, and in Latin America are likely to be the next targets.”
Other geographical regions where Chelsea and Clearlake have considered investing in teams include Belgium and Portugal, according to reports.
BlueCo has said it is initially planning to help develop the model implemented by Keller, by providing capital for investment in the men’s and women’s first teams, the academy, and across the club in general.
BlueCo said in a statement: “It is an honor for us to be part of this historic club. We are committed to preserving the heritage of Racing and are focused on working closely with Marc and his management team to continue the excellent work they have been doing.
“This strategic investment would further our presence in European soccer, alongside our ownership of Chelsea. We believe it would create huge opportunities to share knowledge and expertise.”
Keller added: “This is an important day for Racing. It’s something my shareholder friends and I have been thinking about for the past two years. We’ve built a club that’s healthy at every level and well-managed.
“Although there was no financial urgency, we were aware that we had reached the ceiling of our model, and if we wanted to continue driving Racing forward and projecting it into a new dimension, we necessarily needed to be accompanied by a solid structure capable of supporting our development and our ambition.”
Keller took over the French side when they were in danger of liquidation. In the last five years, he has taken Strasbourg from CFA, French men’s soccer’s fourth tier, to Ligue 1.
Talks were reportedly held with the French side Bordeaux initially, only for a deal with Strasbourg to make more financial sense, according to The Guardian UK news outlet.
- Strasbourg official statement
- GlobalData Sport investigation into multi-club ownership
- GlobalData Sport analyst briefing on the trend's financial benefits
Image: Clive Rose/Getty Images