The billionaire backers of the Boston Celtics and Toronto Maple Leafs have committed to “lifetime ownership” of Chelsea Football Club if they triumph in the £2.5bn auction of the Premier League side.
Speaking exclusively to Sky News, Steve Pagliuca and Larry Tanenbaum said they and their families wanted to make “a long-term commitment” to preserving the Blues’ status as one of the world’s leading teams.
They also vowed to continue delivering trophies in the wake of Roman Abramovich‘s exit as Chelsea’s owner, following a period in which its men’s team won the Premier League five times and the Champions League twice, among 19 major honours.
The duo’s joint pledge to hold onto Chelsea for decades may assuage concerns among the club’s supporters that its next owners could seek to sell it on after a comparatively short period.
Mr Abramovich – whose sanctioning by the government triggered the current auction process – has owned Chelsea since 2003, the same year that Mr Pagliuca became a shareholder in the Boston Celtics basketball team.
Some of Mr Tanenbaum’s sporting interests, which include the Toronto FC Major League Soccer team, the Toronto Maple Leafs ice hockey outfit and the Toronto Raptors basketball team, have been owned by the Canadian businessman for 25 years.
“Larry and I have known each other for over 20 years and we are committed to this being a lifetime ownership. It is a long-term commitment that both families want to make,” said Mr Pagliuca.
Mr Tanenbaum added: “I view the opportunity to acquire this iconic football club as an incredible one to invest in one of the premier teams in the world’s most prestigious soccer league. My goal, and that of Steve, would be to own Chelsea for decades to come.”
He said the evidence provided by their involvement in North American sports franchises underlined their passion and commitment to their teams’ fans and communities.
“Fans want championships and cups, and the best experience in their own home stadium,” Mr Tanenbaum said.
“Steve and I are dedicated to, and will deliver, both.”
The pair held talks this week with a number of Chelsea fan groups, while the True Blues Consortium, which wants a chunk of the club’s equity to be allocated to supporters, has also thrown its weight behind their bid.
The billionaires would assume the roles of co-managing partner if their bid is successful.
Their consortium also includes other investors – who would provide funding and specialist expertise – such as the former Walt Disney chief Bob Iger; Eduardo Saverin, one of the co-founders of Facebook; Peter Guber, a joint owner of the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Football Club; and US-based investor John Burbank.
Mr Pagliuca, who also owns a stake in the Italian Serie A club Atalanta, said the discussions with representatives of supporters’ groups, Chelsea’s men’s and women’s teams and the Chelsea Pitch Owners’ Association had been “positive”.
“Incorporating a broad spectrum of fan perspectives will be a fundamental part of our stewardship if successful,” he said.
“It was heartening to see the passion from the groups, on individual matters important to them, but also the common issues on which they sought clarity: mainly providing comfort on investment in the first team squads, ongoing investment in the academy, expanding the excellent work in the community, and the future redevelopment of Stamford Bridge.
“These are all stated key pillars of our bid and vision for Chelsea FC.
“Larry and I have enjoyed similar achievements with our respective clubs to date, and we believe these achievements carry more weight than words.
“We are able to back-up our intentions with real credentials and that credibility and validation is important to us.”
In addition to their engagement with supporters’ groups, the pair also plan to devote substantial resources to Chelsea’s community work, including on ethnic, racial and gender diversity.
Mr Tanenbaum, for example, has been heavily involved in a number of influential Jewish groups and campaigns to combat antisemitism – a cause which Chelsea’s current owner, who is Jewish, has also championed.
The Canadian is also a prominent figure in the country’s construction industry, having presided over Kilmer Group, a property company which has built sports stadia and numerous office developments, for decades.
That expertise is relevant in the context of Chelsea’s long-standing need to redevelop and expand Stamford Bridge in order to continue competing with Premier League rivals.
Mr Pagliuca and Mr Tanenbaum said they understood fans’ frustrations amid the current hiatus and were keen – if successful with their bid – to get a new era for the club underway.
The pair’s comments come as the auction of Chelsea enters its concluding stages, with Raine Group, the merchant bank handling the process, expected to select a preferred bidder in conjunction with the club’s board by the end of the month.
The other remaining bidders for the Blues are a group led by Sir Martin Broughton, the former Liverpool and British Airways chairman, which includes the billionaire Crystal Palace shareholders Dave Blitzer and Josh Harris; and one spearheaded by Todd Boehly, the LA Dodgers part-owner, in which the largest shareholder would be Clearlake Capital, a US investment firm.
All three have been told by Raine to provide bindings undertakings that they will guarantee at least £1bn of investment in the club’s infrastructure, its academy and women’s team.
The cluster of North American sports billionaires vying to buy Chelsea underlines the extent to which the English Premier League has become a magnet for financiers from across the Atlantic during the last 20 years.
Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United have all been acquired by US-based businessmen during that period, and a significant number of other top-flight clubs also have American backing.
Last season’s Champions League winners have been thrown into disarray by Russia’s war on Ukraine, with Mr Abramovich initially proposing to place the club in the care of its foundation and then formally putting it up for sale.
Prior to being sanctioned, Mr Abramovich had said he intended to write off a £1.5bn loan to the club and hand the net proceeds from the sale to a new charity that he would set up to benefit the victims of the war in Ukraine.
A rapid sale is seen as essential if Chelsea is to avert the uncertainty that would trigger the break-up of one of the top flight’s most valuable playing squads.
Mr Abramovich had initially slapped a £3bn price tag on the Stamford Bridge outfit, with the net proceeds being donated to a charitable foundation set up to benefit the victims of the war in Ukraine.