On Saturday, Britain’s Sky News service reported that the Ricketts family, owner of the Chicago Cubs, were considering bidding for Chelsea FC, one of the most storied and elite teams of English football (soccer). Sky News called the Ricketts family “arguably the most eye-catching” of the potential bidders for the team.
The Ricketts family has declined to comment on the report.
Chelsea has been owned since 2003 by Roman Abramovich, a Russian oligarch who made his billions in the petrochemical industry after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. Abramovich reportedly has close ties to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, ties which he denies.
You can read about Abramovich, how he made his billions and why he is selling Chelsea here. To make a long story short, while Abramovich is not currently on any Western power’s list of Russian oligarchs sanctioned for the Russian war on Ukraine, many feel it is just a matter of time before he is also sanctioned in retaliation for the Ukrainian war. Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer has called for Abramovich to face sanctions, although the Conservative party government in the United Kingdom has resisted that so far. Abramovich appears to be trying to unload the team before the inevitable sanctions hit.
Chelsea, based in West London, is one of the elite teams in world football. The won the UEFA Champions League (the European championship) in 2021 and they won the FIFA Club World Cup (a kind of club World Championship) earlier this year. They have won the English Premier League five times in the 29-year history of that top division. Late last year, the team sent some representatives to Wrigley Field.
The Ricketts have tried to enter the world of soccer ownership in the past. In 2018, the Ricketts tried to purchase Italian giants AC Milan before the creditors who seized the club decided not to sell. They also tried to gain an expansion Chicago USL soccer team (a minor league in the US) that same year.
The English Premier League has experienced massive worldwide growth over the past decade and is increasingly popular in the United States. Were the Ricketts to purchase Chelsea, there would no doubt be several attempts at cross-promotion between the Cubs and Chelsea. Exhibition games at Wrigley Field would seem like a sure bet.
Several EPL teams are owned by American sports owners. Red Sox owner John Henry’s Fenway Sports Group owns Liverpool FC. Arsenal FC is owned by the Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, who also own the Los Angeles Rams, the Denver Nuggets, the Colorado Avalanche, Colorado Rapids of MLS and other sports teams. Manchester United is owned by the Glazer family that also own the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Fulham FC, who currently play in the second-division English Championship but have often played in the Premier League, are owned by Shahid Khan, who also owns the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Ricketts are not the only team interested in bidding on Chelsea, nor are they the only ones with MLB connections. Todd Boehly, a member of the consortium that owns the Dodgers, is reportedly trying to put together a bid for Chelsea. Athletics team president Billy Beane is also rumored to be part of a consortium looking to bid for the team. There are as many as 20 reported groups looking to bid for the team, so it is far from a safe bet that the Ricketts will end up owning the club.
Abramovich purchased Chelsea for £140 million in 2003. He has reportedly put the current value of the team at £3 billion ($3.9 billion). He may not get that much as he is forced to sell the team quickly, but with this many bidders, some group will likely bid something close to that. Abramovich has pledged to donate the proceeds to the “victims of the war in Ukraine,” although as many have pointed out, that promise seems awfully vague and could conceivably include Abramovich himself.
While the Ricketts purchasing Chelsea is just a possibility at the moment, it is certainly something to keep an eye on. As Al likes to say, as always, we await further developments.