Two sporting icons, tennis’ Serena Williams and Lewis Hamilton from motor racing’s prestigious Formula 1, have both pledged money to one of the bids to buy soccer club Chelsea, of England’s top-tier Premier League.
Hamilton and Williams have each pledged what media has reported as being in the region of £10 million ($12.9 million) to the bid fronted by Martin Broughton, the former chair of rival Premier League side Liverpool and also of the British Airways airline.
A spokesperson for Hamilton has said: “We can confirm Lewis has joined Martin Broughton’s bid.”
Broughton’s submission – with his other partners including the president of the World Athletics governing body Set Coe, as well as the US billionaire pairing of Josh Harris and David Blitzer – is one of three currently being assessed by the Raine Group, the US financial institution which is handling the sale of the club.
The former Liverpool and BA chair has reportedly gathered close to £2.5 billion in funding, with other investors including the Rogers family, who own the Canadian corporation Rogers Communications, and the Tsai family, who control a number of Taiwanese baseball teams.
The two other bids – both US-based – are from consortiums led by Todd Boehly, part-owner of the baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers, and by Stephen Pagliuca, co-owner of NBA basketball’s Boston Celtics.
Williams is no stranger to involvement in a professional soccer team, having become an investor in Angel City, the new franchise from the US National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), in July 2020.
Hamilton, meanwhile, is reportedly keen on being involved in Broughton’s bid out of a desire to increase the club’s focus on diversity and engagement with the local area.
In terms of Broughton’s submission, if he is successful, Harris and Blitzer (who together own the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers) will both have to sell their stakes in fellow London Premier League side Crystal Palace.
The Raine Group is currently evaluating the three final-stage bids and is reportedly set to select a preferred bidder, alongside the club’s board, by the end of April.
The sales process started in early March, shortly before Chelsea’s current owner, the Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, was sanctioned by the UK government over alleged economic links to the country’s president Vladimir Putin, he and his country being hit with punitive measures to their invasion of Ukraine.
Despite Abramovich having been sanctioned, the club is still operating (albeit under severe restrictions), and the UK government is expected to issue a special operating license so that Chelsea can be sold. No money will be received by Abramovich, with the proceeds of the sale to be held elsewhere for the time being.
Earlier this week, the backers behind Pagliuca’s submission – including Larry Tanenbaum, who owns ice hockey’s Toronto Maple Leafs – told UK media they were committed to lifetime ownership of Chelsea if their bid is successful.
Other investors in that bid include Bob Iger (former head of the Walt Disney entertainment franchise), Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, US-based investor John Burbank, and Peter Guber, a co-owner of multiple Los Angeles-based sports franchises.
The largest shareholder in the Boehly consortium, meanwhile, would be US investment firm Clearlake Capital.
All three bidding groups have been told by Raine to provide binding guarantees that they will invest at least $1 billion in the club’s infrastructure, academy, and women’s team (combined).
Last week (April 15), the Ricketts family, owners of MLB side the Chicago Cubs, pulled out of the bidding race, after weeks of sustained opposition from the Chelsea fanbase.
The Ricketts’ had made Raine’s initial shortlist, but then backed out ahead of making a final bid, officially stating that they made the decision because of “unusual dynamics around the sales process.”
The family’s patriarch, Joe Ricketts, was accused of Islamophobia three years ago, with the exposure of certain comments he made in 2018 sparking mass criticism of the family amongst the Chelsea fanbase across the last month.
However, it was reported that the decision to withdraw was not primarily due to the fans’ backlash, but instead because the Ricketts’ could not come to an agreement on the internal structuring of the deal with their two partners in the process – billionaire hedge-fund manager Ken Griffin and Dan Gilbert, owner of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers.