• Ben Pawlak

Chelsea FC enters era of change under American owner Todd Boehly

By: Ben Pawlak

Sep. 22, 2022

Photo Credit: Associated Press

On March 29, 2022, SBAJ’s Alejandro Echeverria published “Chelsea FC facing major changes due to Ukraine-Russia conflict”. In his article, Echeverria outlined how Chelsea FC’s owner, Roman Abramovich, was labeled a “pro-Kremlin oligarch” by the U.K. government. His assets were promptly frozen, forcing Abramovich to sell the eighth most valuable soccer club in the world (Chelsea is worth $3.1 billion, according to Forbes). Abramovich took the reins at Chelsea in 2003, and he oversaw the most successful period of the club’s history, which included five Premier League titles and two Champions League trophies.


On May 30, 2022, the Abramovich era officially ended when the club was sold to an investor group led by American businessman Todd Boehly for over $5 billion. Boehly amassed his fortune through a variety of different revenue streams, both in the industry of sports and as a venture capitalist. While serving as president of Guggenheim Partners, Boehly helped broker a deal between Time Warner Cable and the Los Angeles Dodgers to create SportsNet LA, a regional network which has covered the professional sports scene of Los Angeles since 2012. In 2015, Boehly founded Eldridge Industries, a holding company based in Greenwich, Connecticut with offices in New York City, London, and Los Angeles. Their most lucrative investments include The Hollywood Reporter, Dick Clark Productions, Vivid Seats, GoPuff, and DraftKings.


Given his 20% stake in the LA Dodgers and LA Sparks, Boehly has some prior ownership experience in the sports industry. For Boehly, however, his purchase of Chelsea was always about maximizing the financial upside of marketing European soccer to an increasingly receptive American audience. In an interview with Bloomberg shortly before his purchase of the club was made official, Boehly admitted that “one of the great things about the Premier League is that it’s on a Saturday morning in America… [it’s] an uncongested time slot that is fully dominated by the Premier League.”


It’s worth noting that as Chelsea’s new owner, Boehly is inheriting the services of one of America’s most prominent soccer player, Christian Pulisic, who has played at Chelsea since 2019.


This past summer, Boehly wasted no time making an impact at his new club. All told, Boehly has spent $310 million to bring in seven players, most notably attacker Raheem Sterling from Manchester City and defender Wesley Fofana from Leicester City. In contrast, Boehly recouped a total of just $65 million from the key players who departed the squad, many of whom departed as free agents or were sold for a fee far less than their market value.


Pulisic was not among the departures despite publicly stating that he would welcome a move to another Premier League club which could guarantee him regular playing time before the World Cup this winter. Rumors have speculated that Boehly kept Pulisic due to his strategic importance to help Chelsea capitalize on the American soccer market.


Boehly’s immediate impact at Chelsea wasn’t limited only to roster changes. On Sep. 7, Thomas Tuchel was relieved of his duties as Chelsea’s manager following a 1-0 loss to lowly Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League. Subsequently, scathing reports emerged from Sports Illustrated that Tuchel and Boehly spent much of the summer in disagreement over the players the team should be targeting and the tactics that should be deployed to help the team win.


To replace Tuchel, Boehly plucked English manager Graham Potter from one of their league rivals, Brighton & Hove Albion. These changes come at a significant financial expense: a $23 million compensation fee was paid to Tuchel to relieve him of his duties, and Chelsea were forced to pay Brighton a $18 million release clause to bring in Potter on a 4 year, $70 million contract.


To many Chelsea fans - as well as the ever-critical English media - Boehly’s decision to fire Tuchel was just as harsh as it was embarrassing. Granted, Chelsea sputtered out of the gate to start the new season, but Tuchel’s accomplishments during his 20 months at Chelsea were extremely impressive. He coached 100 matches in all competitions, winning 60, drawing 24, and losing just 16 times. Most notably, Tuchel led the club to its second Champions League title during the 2020-21 season.


Todd Boehly has been Chelsea’s owner for less than 4 months, and he’s already making lots of headlines, both positive and negative. As an American stepping into the spotlight of the English Premier League, Chelsea’s performance under his leadership will be an indictment of how our nation fits into the landscape of the world’s most popular sport.


English stereotypes of ignorant American businessmen using their beloved clubs to line their own pockets remain prevalent in mainstream soccer discourse. Only time will tell whether Boehly can shatter these stereotypes by leading Chelsea FC into a glorious new era, or whether he’ll fail to break the mold.