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Could Chelsea’s revolution change the whole Premier League? New owners plan to sweat assets

Jose E Feliciano, the new co-owner of a Premier League club, spots a group of journalists arriving as he participates in an open training session on the UCLA campus in Beverly Hills.

He steps up to him confidently, introduces himself and then starts jokingly asking reporters which players to target in the transfer window.

This is not Roman Abramovich’s neurotic Chelsea Football Club, where the permanent expression was one of pained panic and where the former owner traveled with his own exclusion zone.

This is the American Chelsea Football Club – and the future looks a little different.

Chelsea is American-owned after Russian businessman Roman Abramovich sold the club

Chelsea is American-owned after Russian businessman Roman Abramovich sold the club

Manager Thomas Tuchel will continue to oversee on-field performance going forward

Manager Thomas Tuchel will continue to oversee on-field performance going forward

For clues as to what that future is likely to be, a short trip through Los Angeles is needed. Dodger Stadium is home to the LA Dodgers, the other sports franchise partially owned by Todd Boehly, the main player in Chelsea sales, and it provides a blueprint for the Blues.

When Boehly and his group arrived in 2012, the legendary franchise had filed for bankruptcy. On their knees, they hadn’t won a World Series in 24 years.

They quickly started rebuilding the roster. A number of ambitious transactions were activated. One deal, worth $260 million (£217 million) in salaries to the Boston Red Sox, was the biggest in the sport at the time. In three months, the Dodgers added nearly half a billion dollars to their payroll.

That may sound like music to the ears of Chelsea supporters. It should be. This is an ownership group that clearly realizes that success or failure starts with what happens on the field. Prior to their arrival, the Dodgers had made it to the playoffs for a maximum of two years in a row.

If, as expected, they make it to the late season this year, it will be the 10th consecutive year. In 2020 they won an elusive World Series.

In the first decade of their ownership, the Dodgers had 51 wins more than the second-best team. Their wage bill has topped the league six times. In every year it has been top five.

Chelsea has been on a pre-season tour in the United States, with many first team stars in attendance

Chelsea has been on a pre-season tour in the United States, with many first team stars in attendance

The arrivals of Raheem Sterling and Kalidou Koulibaly, with Jules Kounde joining them to make it a £150m rapid fire, should come as no surprise. More new faces will be traveling to West London in the coming weeks and months.

What will be fascinating is how the new group is turning things around financially. Like other American owners, they are not here to throw money into a black hole for the love of the game. Every investment should be part of a plan that delivers returns.

Despite winning the Champions League, Chelsea lost £145.6 million in 2021. Expect highly incentivized contracts on the player side. Expect more leaves to be taken out of the baseball book.

The new group plans to “sweat” their trump card. Expect a rapid, standby stand facelift of Stamford Bridge in the near future.

In baseball, the homes of the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles, Fenway Park, and Camden Yards have been redeveloped in recent times. Distinctive features were retained, but with a view to maximizing sales. A similar project will take place on King’s Road.

Dodger Stadium isn’t limited by space issues, but offers a glimpse of what fans can expect. Merchandise stalls are everywhere. The fan experience, where there are stunning views from every seat, is staggering, as is the cost of a can of beer, at $18 (£15).

Chairman Todd Boehly (center) oversaw training sessions throughout the tour

Chairman Todd Boehly (center) oversaw training sessions throughout the tour

Forward Raheem Sterling (left) was the arrival of the tent under new ownership

Forward Raheem Sterling (left) was the arrival of the tent under new ownership

Another clue can be found on the phone. MLB’s At Bat app is seen as the way forward. It was launched in 2008 and became the most profitable sports app for five years in a row. Users select their own team and can watch matches and thousands of clips and enjoy key moments from their club’s history.

While many top clubs – including Chelsea – already have their own apps, they are seen as lagging behind and an important area for potential growth.

Improving digital content and finding a way to monetize it is a top priority. Boehly outlined his vision for increasing fan engagement during the acquisition. “Loyalty programs, whether it’s Dodgers, Lakers or Chelsea, we all think about direct customer relationships that we can build on,” he said.

‘And [then] we can start thinking about [having] many levels of fans wanting different products. We think about what we want to give our ‘super fans’.’

The biggest gain is in the broadcasting rights. What makes Chelsea – and possibly other top teams – appealing to those on this side of the Atlantic is the perception that England’s top flight is vastly undervalued when it comes to TV sales.

Boehly also co-owns the LA Dodgers US baseball team, which has visited Chelsea

Boehly also co-owns the LA Dodgers US baseball team, which has visited Chelsea

Boehly wants to increase the value of the Premier League after joining Chelsea

Boehly wants to increase the value of the Premier League after joining Chelsea

Joe Ravitch is the co-founder of the Raine Group bank, which brokered the sale of the club. He told the Financial Times: “My guess is Chelsea and all the top clubs in the Premier League will probably be worth more than $10 billion in five years.”

The comparison with the NFL is stark and Chelsea’s new owners know it well. Although the NFL has about 175 million fans compared to the Premier League’s 4 billion, the NFL is thought to generate significantly more media revenue – which is seen as an almost open target.

While the Premier League is already the best league in the world, the trick will be to increase its value. But the owners recognize the beauty of the league in how competitive it is, and how the broad distribution of revenue across the 20 clubs makes the product so attractive. After last year’s disaster, there is no appetite for the Super League break.

In the US, the Dodgers can sell the local TV rights themselves, rather than the league closing the deal. While such a scenario is unlikely in England, there are ways in which the new owners feel they can ‘fully serve’ their new fanbase.

The club has fans all over the world and the new owners want to improve their experience

The club has fans all over the world and the new owners want to improve their experience

Much of that will benefit newly elected President of Business Tom Glick. Glick is a rarity in football – someone who was seemingly universally loved. No one at Manchester City or Derby County, where he previously worked, has a bad word to say about him.

Expect changes elsewhere as the company reforms. The firm approach could yield some backups. According to insiders, it already is, but these people are not here to waste time.

However, they do value the opinion of others. Cristiano Ronaldo, and the commercial opportunities he would have brought, the shirts he would have sold, may have made him the perfect asset to the new regime.

But they consulted Thomas Tuchel and decided not to move him. You suspect that was the right decision. Expect more of it in the future.

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