Meet the Boehlys — the new first family of football

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 (Evening Standard composite)
(Evening Standard composite)

At first glance, Todd Boehly does not look like a billionaire. So, it is understandable that the American businessman, philanthropist and — as of this week — new owner of Chelsea FC went unnoticed by some of the fans he sat among in the lower west stand of Stamford Bridge three weeks ago.

On his visits to London over the past three months, the 46-year-old father-of-three has wandered around virtually anonymously, dressed in baggy hoodies, long-sleeved Henley T-shirts, chinos and jeans. A baseball cap has kept his shaggy mop of hair under control and a dad-style anorak has kept out the British springtime chill. The fluorescent laces worn on just one of his sneakers last Friday night when he signed terms on a £4.25 billion deal to buy Chelsea might have been the only reason for the average passer-by to look twice at the man whose star-studded portfolio ranges from the LA Dodgers baseball team, the LA Lakers basketball team and Bruce Springsteen’s song collection.

Few might have had any idea of the spectacular wealth which has put Boehly within government and Premier League approval of buying out Roman Abramovich in the biggest acquisition in the history of football. But looks can be deceiving. Valued by Forbes as having a personal fortune of £3.66 billion, the former Citibank exec is known as a self-made finance guy who made much of his money as the co-founder and head of Eldridge Industries, a private investment firm based in Connecticut.

He is said to be very focused, with an “intellectual” interest in football. But he has on-the-ground experience, too. Chelsea is far from Boehly’s first sporting business venture: in 2013, the former college wrestling star brokered a major deal between Time Warner Cable and the LA Dodgers to create TV network SportsNet LA, which broadcasts baseball content. He is also the co-owner of the seven-time MLB World Series champions, an owner of prominent sports gambling company DraftKings, and holds shares in the basketball team LA Lakers.

“Football’s the biggest sport in the world, the passion the fans have for the sport and the teams is unparalleled,” he told Bloomberg when his interest in buying Chelsea was first reported. So what are his intentions for Chelsea and how will the club change under his ownership?

Todd Boehly, founder and chief executive officer of Eldridge Industries LLC, listens during the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills (Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Todd Boehly, founder and chief executive officer of Eldridge Industries LLC, listens during the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills (Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Insiders say Boehly’s low-key appearance is typical of how he operates; he is the down-to-earth billionaire who lives in Darien, Connecticut with his wife Katie and their sons Nick, Zach, and Clay. “Grounded” is a phrase commonly used to describe Boehly. On that trip to the Bridge last month, when Boehly made a point of avoiding the executive seats to truly taste the match-going experience, he insisted on walking the perimeter of the stadium to drink it all in.

Chelsea lost 4-2 that night — and of his three most recent visits, he is yet to see the side win. On Saturday they threw away a two-goal lead against Wolves to draw 2-2, and previously he watched Real Madrid effectively end their defence of the Champions League with a 3-1 win in the first leg of their quarter-final tie. But it was that match that figures close to his bid say convinced them that he would do anything to win the battle for the Bridge. Even in defeat, Boehly was left utterly enthused by the spectacle and the atmosphere.

Boehly’s bug dates back to that originally Chelsea bid back in 2018. But it was that game that reinforced his determination to see off competition from some of the richest people in the world to land the club. Boehly has made his fortune in knowing how to invest — first with global finance company Guggenheim Partners, and then Eldridge Industries, where he oversees more than £32 billion-worth of investments. Chelsea is his latest bet after partnering with long-time friend, British property developer Jonathan Goldstein. Investment firm Clearlake Capital is providing major funding, while Mark Walter and Hansjorg Wyss also make up the consortium.

But of most interest to Chelsea fans is his part-ownership of the Dodgers — one of the most famous sports teams in America. Under him, the Dodgers have won the World Series and eight-straight National League West titles. He has spent heavily — including the record £227 million, deal for Mookie Betts in 2020, while the wage bill has topped £240 million. He has also used analytics to pick up previously unheralded stars from the sport’s minor leagues, like Max Muncy.

Yet if Boehly is understated in his appearance, his ambitions are anything but. He is convinced he can better Abramovich’s unprecedented success that delivered 19 major trophies in nearly two decades. He plans to make significant investments in the first team — starting immediately when the transfer window opens this summer. He will also redevelop the stadium on a stand-by-stand basis, with Goldstein using his expertise to take a leading role in that.

Prospective Chelsea owner Todd Boehly (centre) reacts before a goal is disallowed by VAR during the Premier League match at Stamford Bridge (PA)
Prospective Chelsea owner Todd Boehly (centre) reacts before a goal is disallowed by VAR during the Premier League match at Stamford Bridge (PA)

But it is notable that Boehly, who has seen the rise of women’s football in America, previously tried to buy US women’s team Washington Spirit. He sees Chelsea’s women as a major opportunity for growth. Crucially, he considers Chelsea to be an asset that can still appreciate considerably in value. It is why he was never dissuaded during an arduous bidding process conducted by merchant bank Raine Group.

It is understood Boehly’s base offer of £2.5 billion was in place from the start, with a further £1.75 billion committed to investing in the club. Boehly, who will be at Saturday’s FA Cup Final between Chelsea and Liverpool, knows his numbers. He is described as intensely analytical and can absorb incredibly complicated information in one take.

The enormous sums available through broadcast revenues are also a major attraction. He has described the Dodgers’s media rights as an “investment-grade bond”, underlining his cold, hard business approach to sport. But he also has a fundamental understanding of what is required to give him the best chance of a return on his investment — on-field success. Legendary basketballer Earvin “Magic” Johnson is a partner in the Dodgers — and Boehly has credited him with instilling a winning mentality.

At Chelsea, it remains to be seen what involvement former players will have, but he understood a key weakness in his bid from the outset. US owners are looked on with suspicion from fans, given the records of the Glazers and Stan Kroenke at United and Arsenal respectively. The British arm of his consortium, meanwhile, is a well-known Tottenham fan, in Goldstein. Boehly, sources close to him say, wanted to inject his bid with people who “speak Chelsea”.

Tory peer Daniel Finkelstein, and PR executive Barbara Charone — both lifelong Chelsea fans — were named as board members, should he be successful. Despite being so consumed by analytics, he is fascinated by the uncontrollable elements of the game. Boehly’s business is about assessing risks, crunching the numbers to come up with the best returns. In football, he is drawn to the potential of doing “all the right things” yet still ending up on the losing team. In the battle for Chelsea, it was Boehly who proved the ultimate winner.

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