Why US billionaires can’t stop buying British soccer teams
It is said that the fastest way to become a millionaire is to become a billionaire first – and then buy a sports team.
But America’s wealthiest don’t seem to have gotten the message.
More and more American investors with big pockets are looking beyond the NFL or NBA – and crossing the Atlantic to the English Premier League (EPL).
Today, half of the 20 EPL teams are wholly or partly owned by US money – and despite inconsistent returns, more may be on the way.
Formed in 1992 when 22 teams broke away from the Football League (dating back to the 1880s), the EPL is now a global brand, watched in 188 countries, with an annual television audience of over 5 billion people.
Since the mid-2000s, three of the biggest EPL teams – Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal – have been owned by Americans.
But now Bournemouth, Chelsea, Fulham, Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, Manchester City and Leeds United have also come under some measure of American control.
With billions of dollars (and viewers) at stake, the impending sale of Manchester United by its American owners, the Glazers, has made headlines on both sides of the pond.
The decision to sell Manchester United, regarded as British football’s biggest prize, has sparked interest from potential buyers from Qatar, as well as British chemical mogul Sir Jim Ratcliffe.
But there are rumors that several US investors are still showing their hands.
Is the price holding them back?
The Glazers are angling for a payday of around $7 billion and if they even come close to that, the record $5.4 billion that Los Angeles co-owner Todd Boehly set in May 2022 for London’s Chelsea Football Club has issued will be destroyed.
But what’s in it for new owners, especially Americans who are spoiled for home franchises?
According to Kieran Maguire, an expert on football finance at the University of Liverpool and host of ‘The Price of Football’ podcast, the EPL – despite its multi-billion dollar price tags – may even be undervalued.
“The key is the price of British sports franchises,” he tells The Post. “A few months ago, Bournemouth was bought for £120 million ($185 million) by Texan investor Bill Foley.
“That’s a bargain, especially given the strength of the US dollar against the pound and the higher costs involved in buying franchises in America.” (The Phoenix Suns, for example, just sold for $4 billion.)
It’s a bargain too, as even the worst-performing team in the EPL receives about $120 million each year in league prizes and a share of the broadcast revenue.
Still, potential investors are not necessarily welcomed with open arms.
There is an inherent suspicion of foreign coaches or owners, especially Americans, a fact not helped by the mediocre work the Glazers have done at United.
In 2005, the family borrowed much of the $950 million it took to buy United before putting the blame back on the club itself.
The resulting burden has stifled much-needed investment in the club’s aging stadium and training facilities.
Then there’s Todd Boehly’s brief stint as Chelsea owner, which for many has only reinforced the belief that Americans have no clue about football.
Within weeks of arriving, Boehly sacked coach Thomas Tuchel, who had just won Europe’s premier club competition, the Champions League, and replaced him with Graham Potter, who has since managed just nine wins in 26 games, taking Chelsea out of the EPL title fell. race.
And let’s not forget the expenses.
To date, Boehly has spent approximately $720 million buying 17 new players and $357 million in January 2023 alone.
That’s more than the combined total spending of all 78 teams in Europe’s other major leagues. Even bigger clubs cannot participate.
Liverpool may be England’s most successful team, but despite LeBron James as a stakeholder, they can’t match Chelsea’s financial strength.
So can anyone make money in British football in the midst of all these player payouts?
Yes, says Kieran Maguire.
“Look at Manchester United,” he adds. “In a good year, their revenue is about $750-800 million and they have a fan base of about 1.1 billion people worldwide.
“That works out to about 75 cents per fan.
“If a new owner can just double that, you suddenly look at a very profitable company.
It helps that the EPL’s annual revenue is still only half of the NFL’s $18 billion — even though, unlike the NFL or NBA, no EPL games have been held overseas.
The lucrative prospect of a future ‘European Super League’ – as well as potential matches outside the UK – are music to investors’ ears.
But the EPL’s popularity doesn’t always translate into profits.
When Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner paid $125 million for EPL team Aston Villa in 2006, he pumped in $300 million over a decade before selling to Chinese businessman Tony Jiantong for just $90 million in 2016 Xia.
Forbes magazine estimated the venture cost Lerner about $100,000 for every day he was in charge.
While English football has clearly become a plaything for billionaires, millionaires are also joining the fray.
In February 2021, actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney bought Wrexham, a Welsh club that plays in the fifth tier of English football, the National League.
Since taking over, the team has gone from strength to strength, topping their division and looking to gain promotion to the next tier of football.
And after ‘Welcome To Wrexham’, the Disney+ docu-series that follows the misadventures of the team, the town has become a tourist destination, with fans from Australia and Canada flocking to watch games.
It is, says Reynolds, “very time consuming, emotionally draining, financially idiotic… and utterly addictive.”
And the price paid?
Only $2.5 million.