At least five groups are known to have submitted bids to buy Chelsea, of English soccer’s top-tier Premier League, before the deadline of last Friday (March 18), with investment firm Centricus the latest to have confirmed a bid.
Several others, meanwhile, have also launched takeover bids according to various media reports.
US financial advisory firm The Raine Group is currently leading a sales process that aims to find a buyer for the London club as quickly as possible, hence the bid deadline late last week.
This is in response to sanctions placed on current owner Roman Abramovich by the UK government due to his alleged close ties to Russian president and compatriot Vladimir Putin as a result of the country's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, which began at the end of February.
The measures mean that the club is currently unable to generate any revenue – although a special license by the government has enabled it to keep operating and fulfilling fixtures – which has lent the process a degree of urgency.
Raine Group is currently narrowing down that list of bidders and intends to draw up a shortlist of three over the next 48 hours, in consultation with senior figures at the club, it has been reported.
Of the five groups to have so far publicly announced their participation in the bidding process, three are majority-led by British businessmen and firms.
Martin Broughton and Sebastien Coe (president of the World Athletics governing body) are headlining one of these, while another has come from property developer Nick Candy, and the third (disclosed today, March 21) is from Centricus.
In terms of foreign investment, there has been a bid from the Ricketts family, who own the Chicago Cubs from US’ Major League Baseball, as well as a submission from a group consisting of Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss and Todd Boehly (part-owner of the MLB’s Los Angeles Dodgers).
Reports last week, meanwhile, suggested Saudi Media Group (SMG), a Middle Eastern media conglomerate, was in the process of making an offer of £2.7 billion ($3 billion) to buy the club.
The Centricus bid is fronted by co-founder Nizar Al-Bassam and Garth Ritchie, the chief executive.
Jonathan Lourie of Cheyne Capital and Bob Finch of Talis Capital are also involved.
That group has now said it “will be committed to supporting Chelsea and its key stakeholders to ensure its continued success.
“If our offer is successful, Centricus would be focused on ensuring that the CFC Group continues to achieve sporting excellence, high level of community support, transparent governance, financial sustainability, fan engagement, and exemplary custodianship.
"The intention is to maintain and support existing management on both the business and sporting operations of the CFC Group. We intend to maintain the existing strategic direction.”
Raine has said it is hopeful that a takeover will go through soon, despite the logistical difficulties involved now that the club is operating under sanctions.
The imposition of these by the UK government on Abramovich and his assets means he cannot be involved in any sale, in terms of securing proceeds.
The government has already issued one special license for Chelsea, to allow the club to continue operating as a business, and reports suggest conversations are now ongoing as to the issue of another one so that the sales process can be continued.
It is anticipated that this second license would be issued when a preferred buyer has been identified.
With the deadline having passed and a quick sale being the ideal outcome, bidders have already been given a chance to look at the club’s latest accounts and wage bill.
Parties serious about buying Chelsea are now completing due diligence and bidders are being told they will need to offer legal guarantees that they have funds to complete a deal.
In effect, Abramovich, who bought the club for £140 million ($184.7 million) in 2003, will have to write off the vast sums he had loaned to the club and would presumably have been looking to recoup at a later date through a lucrative sales process.
The billionaire is one of seven Russian oligarchs targeted with an estimated £15-billion-worth set of sanctions that were announced by the UK government on March 10.
Currently, the club cannot sell tickets for upcoming games, cannot sell merchandise either in-person or online, and cannot either buy new players or renew contracts for current personnel. Essentially, it cannot spend or receive monies above a tight limit put in place by the UK government.
The weekend did see some much-needed good news for Chelsea in terms of their financial situation, as Ukraine-based sports betting firm Parimatch announced they would not suspend commercial relations with the club, despite Abramovich’s alleged close ties to the Russian government and Putin.
Parimatch had only entered into its partnership with Chelsea in August 2021, with the deal initially set to run until the conclusion of the 2023-24 campaign and containing LED board branding rights at the London club’s Stamford Bridge stadium, as well as marketing rights across the team’s social media accounts.
The brand has been quoted by media as saying: “Sadly, our position has been misinterpreted in a few publications
“Parimatch is not terminating or suspending the contract with Chelsea. We are limiting our joint marketing and brand campaigns to focus all our efforts on helping Ukraine.
“All of our current activity in the public domain is aimed at raising awareness about the war. We intend to use the resources at hand, including the club’s LED display systems, to promote our volunteering and donation activities.”
Parimatch remaining on board will come as welcome news to Chelsea, with the club during the crisis so far having had its commercial relationships with main shirt sponsor Three, sleeve sponsor Hyundai, MSC Cruises, and Zapp suspended.