Private equity billionaire and co-owner of the Boston Celtics basketball team Stephen Pagliuca has revealed that Larry Tanenbaum, chair of the National Basketball Association, is among the list of heavyweight backers of his bid to buy Chelsea.
The consortium led by the co-chair of Bain Capital, a US private equity firm with $160bn of assets under management, is one of four investment groups vying to buy the Premier League side from sanctioned Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, who is selling up in the wake of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Pagliuca said on Wednesday that he is co-managing the bid alongside Tanenbaum.
They are up against a group backed by the US-based Ricketts family, which owns the Chicago Cubs baseball team, and hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin; private equity billionaires Josh Harris and David Blitzer; and a group led by Todd Boehly, co-owner of baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers.
Bidders are not only competing on price but also their ability to redevelop Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge stadium, which is smaller than the home grounds of major rivals such as Manchester United.
Tanenbaum’s involvement in the consortium was revealed a day before Thursday’s deadline for final bids, as merchant bankers at Raine Group press on with the sale of the club, which has been accelerated by the geopolitical situation around the invasion of Ukraine.
Former Disney chief executive Bob Iger and his journalist wife Willow Bay, Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin and his wife Elaine Saverin are also backing Pagliuca’s bid.
Hollywood producer Peter Guber, co-owner of the Golden State Warriors NBA team and another investor in the Dodgers, is another member of the consortium with strong ties to the sports industry.
In February, Pagliuca led the acquisition of a majority stake in Italian football team Atalanta. Tanenbaum chairs Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs ice hockey team and the Toronto Raptors basketball outfit. He also helped lead Toronto’s bid to host Fifa 2026 World Cup matches.
Abramovich acquired Chelsea in 2003 and used his fortune to build the team into a trophy-winning outfit with a global brand.
The club has won the Premier League title five times during his ownership, and is among the elite group of English clubs known as the Big Six, which also includes Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.
The profile of the bidders for Chelsea suggests that American investors will soon own four of the Big Six. The US Glazer family acquired United in 2005, sports mogul Stan Kroenke owns Arsenal, and John Henry’s Fenway Sports Group controls Liverpool.
Chelsea won last season’s Uefa Champions League, Europe’s most prestigious club tournament, but was knocked out of this year’s competition by Spain’s Real Madrid this week.
Abramovich has pledged to donate the net proceeds off the sale to charity and write off £1.5bn of debt owed to him by the club.
The transaction requires special approval from the UK government, which has allowed Chelsea to continue playing matches despite sanctioning Abramovich, as well as the Premier League.
A Jersey court on Wednesday froze more than $7bn in assets linked to Abramovich, whose assets are under close scrutiny because of his ties to Putin.