It was announced on Friday that a consortium led by Los Angeles Dodgers part-owner Todd Boehly has been selected as the preferred bidder in the race to buy Chelsea from Roman Abramovich. If the 46-year-old hedge fund billionaire can repeat the rescue job he has pulled off with the Dodgers over the past decade, it is an outcome that will suit Blues supporters just fine.
In 2011, the Dodgers were among the most badly mismanaged teams in North American sports under Frank McCourt, the Boston real estate developer who had bought the franchise and the surrounding Chavez Ravine land from Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Entertainment Group seven years earlier.
Although McCourt retained sole ownership of the Dodgers after a high-profile divorce in 2009, Major League Baseball assumed day-to-day control of operations less than two years later with the MLB commissioner, Bud Selig, citing “his deep concerns regarding the finances and operations” of the debt-ridden club.
That all ended 10 years ago this Sunday when Guggenheim Baseball Management – a group of investors that included Boehly, Mark Walter and the LA Lakers legend Magic Johnson – completed their purchase of the Dodgers for $2.15bn in a sale overseen by a bankruptcy court, nearly doubling the previous record sale price for a sports team in North America (a reported $1.1bn for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins in 2009) and globally (the Glazer family’s 2005 takeover of Manchester United, then valued at $1.47bn).
The stunning coup lay to waste rival bids from the Arsenal owner, Stan Kroenke, and a hedge fund billionaire, Steve Cohen, who went on to buy the New York Mets for a record $2.42bn in October 2020.
What followed in California is one of the most dramatic reversals of fortune in the annals of North American sports. Within two years, having restored the club to respectability, Boehly marshalled an $8.35bn deal between Time Warner Cable and the Dodgers to create SportsNet LA, a regional network that carried all Dodgers games. Much of that cash immediately flowed back into the insurance funds that were leveraged to buy the team and reinvested in payroll. It has been nine years since they have missed out on the postseason.
The Dodgers, who had dropped out of the top 10 in annual payroll under McCourt’s ownership and were being outbid by small-market clubs on the free-agent market, have since eclipsed the New York Yankees as baseball’s biggest spenders, reinvested in their stadium, repaired badly frayed ties with the city and, crucially, ended the club’s 32-year championship drought with their 2020 World Series triumph.
The Dodgers purchase was just the start of Boehly’s move into sports ownership. He bought an interest in the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks shortly afterwards and last year teamed up with Walter to purchase a 27% stake of the Los Angeles Lakers, the NBA’s third-highest valued team with an estimated worth of $5.14bn. Boehly is also reportedly among the five initial bidders to purchase the NFL’s Denver Broncos.
When he first approached Abramovich to purchase Chelsea three years ago in a bid that was rejected – after a previous failed bid for Tottenham – Boehly explained why he wanted a Premier League club for his portfolio. “Football’s the biggest sport in the world, the passion the fans have for the sport and the teams is unparalleled,” Boehly told Bloomberg in 2019. “So what you are trying to build with these teams, you are really trying to a) win and b) be part of the community.
“The opportunity we had with the Dodgers was really about part-ownership with Los Angeles, how are we going to win, how are we going to drive championships and how are we going to build passion. If you look at what the Premier League offers, it’s all of those things.
“One of the great things the Premier League has is that it’s on a Saturday morning in America. So you have an uncongested time slot that is now fully dominated by the Premier League. NBC has done an amazing job bringing that content.
“When I was growing up, [there was] Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, but certainly I didn’t know about Manchester United, I didn’t know about Chelsea, I didn’t know about Tottenham. Kids these days are fully aware of what’s the best and the Premier League is the best. I continue to believe there is global opportunity for the best clubs.”
His experience leaning into turmoil is not limited to the sports world. Last year, with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association facing an existential crisis after NBC dropped its flagship Golden Globes telecast after allegations of self-dealing, ethical lapses and an alarming lack of diversity, it was Boehly who was appointed as interim CEO.
Boehly, who studied at the London School of Economics and whose private equity firm, Eldrige Industries, operates a portfolio of businesses across the sports, media, real estate development and hospitality industries, has operated as the man behind the curtain with the Dodgers, certainly relative to the more front-facing Walter and Johnson.
Now it has been reported that Boehly would be the most influential figure in the running of Chelsea, a role it appears he is well prepared for after a decade behind the scenes of some of the most prominent clubs across all sports.