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US investment firm Clearlake makes deadline day signing for Boehly’s Chelsea bid

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A California-based investment firm has joined one of the frontrunners to buy Chelsea Football Club as a multitude of parties conduct frenzied negotiations to finalise their offers hours before the deadline for bids.

Sky News has learnt that Clearlake Capital, which has roughly $60bn (£45.6bn) of assets under management, has signed up to a consortium headed by Todd Boehly, the LA Dodgers part-owner.

Clearlake has amassed a large portfolio of investments, including in PrimeSport, which it describes as “the leader in providing direct access to the biggest sporting events on the planet”.

A person has his picture taken outside Stamford Bridge, the stadium for Chelsea Football Club, after Britain imposed sanctions on its Russian owner, Roman Abramovich, in London, Britain, March 10, 2022. REUTERS/Hannah Mckay
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Chelsea have become established as one of Europe’s most successful sides under Roman Abramovich’s ownership

Sources said the bid led by Mr Boehly was now “overfunded”, meaning that it, like a number of Chelsea’s other prospective buyers, have secured more capital than they are likely to require to buy the club.

This is largely because of the truncated timetable on which the sale process is being conducted following the sanctioning of Roman Abramovich, the Blues’ owner since 2003.

The bidding group that Clearlake Capital has joined also includes Hansjorg Wyss, a Swiss businessman, and – as Sky News revealed last weekend – Jonathan Goldstein, a London-based property investor.

Lord Finkelstein, a Times journalist, and Barbara Charone, a celebrity publicist, would join Chelsea’s board as non-executive directors if the Boehly bid is successful, it emerged on Thursday.

The respective funding contributions of the consortium’s different partners was unclear on Friday.

A source close to the group said its offer could be implemented rapidly and that the required capital was ready to be deployed.

Oct 2, 2021; St. Louis, Missouri, USA; Chicago Cubs right fielder Trayce Thompson (43) is congratulated by second baseman Trent Giambrone (85) after hitting a grand slam during the fifth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium
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The family behind the Chicago Cubs are involved in a rival bid for Chelsea

Mr Boehly’s consortium would provide long-term funding for Chelsea, including the redevelopment of its Stamford Bridge home, its academy and its women’s team, the source added.

The group is one of a number of credible bidders which have emerged during a hastily convened auction being run by Raine, the New York-based merchant bank.

Others seen as viable contenders include: a group – also revealed by Sky News – comprising the Ricketts family, which owns the Chicago Cubs baseball team, and Ken Griffin, the American hedge fund billionaire; Woody Johnson, the former US ambassador to the UK; Nick Candy, the property entrepreneur; and Sir Martin Broughton, whose involvement in the auction was first reported by Sky News last weekend.

Oaktree Capital, the former Apollo executive Josh Harris, a Saudi Arabia-based media company and Tilman Fertitta, owner of the Houston Rockets NBA franchise, have also been linked to potential bids with varying degrees of credibility.

News of the latest participant to enter the most fiercely contested auction in English football club history comes on the day that Chelsea drew Real Madrid in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League – a competition the London club won last season.

The Premier League has now disqualified Mr Abramovich from being a director of Chelsea, but has said the move would not affect players’ ability to train or fulfil the club’s fixtures.

The government has also amended a licence which allows Chelsea to continue operating, increasing the sum it can spend on each home match from £500,000 to £900,000 and permitting the club to receive and spend income from broadcast rights and prize money.

Last week, Chelsea’s corporate credit cards were frozen by Barclays as the British bank sought to clarify the implications of the sanctions against Mr Abramovich, deepening the sense of anxiety surrounding the club’s finances.

Russian billionaire and owner of Chelsea football club Roman Abramovich arrives at a division of the High Court in central London October 31, 2011. REUTERS/Andrew Winning/
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Roman Abramovich has been disqualified from being a director of Chelsea

Chelsea were plunged into a row with Middlesbrough, the club’s opponents in the FA Cup quarter-finals this weekend, after requesting that the match be played behind closed doors for reasons of “sporting integrity”.

The request was rapidly withdrawn after a fierce backlash from across football and Westminster.

A rapid sale is seen as essential if Chelsea is to remain solvent and therefore retain the nucleus of a playing squad which has become established as one of Europe’s most successful under Mr Abramovich’s ownership during the last two decades.

The government has been clear that none of the proceeds from a takeover could flow to the Russian-born billionaire.

The cluster of American investors circling 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.

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.

The value of the bids to be tabled on Friday remains unclear, however.

Last week, Chelsea sponsors such as Three UK, the mobile telecoms network, and Hyundai, the Korean car-maker, announced that they were suspending their association with the club, which was also banned from opening its retail outlets or selling new match tickets to fans.

Whoever buys the club will require the government’s consent in the form of a special licence, as well as the approval of the Premier League under its fit and proper ownership test.

A spokesman for Mr Boehly’s bid declined to comment.

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