LONDON — Roman Abramovich’s 19 years as Chelsea owner is closer to ending after the British government approved the sale of the Premier League club by the sanctioned Russian oligarch to a consortium fronted by Los Angeles Dodgers part-owner Todd Boehly.
The government had to be sure that Abramovich, who was sanctioned over his links to Russian President Vladimir Putin, did not profit from the enforced sale of the club that his investment turned into one of the most successful in European football.
The reigning FIFA Club World Cup winners and 2021 European champions will be sold for $3.1 billion — the highest price ever for a sports team — once Premier League approval is granted.
Chelsea has been operating under a government license since Abramovich’s assets were frozen in March and it expires on May 31.
“Following extensive work, we are now satisfied that the full proceeds of the sale will not benefit Roman Abramovich or any other sanctioned individual,” the British government said in a statement released Wednesday. “We will now begin the process of ensuring the proceeds of the sale are used for humanitarian causes in Ukraine, supporting victims of the war.
“The steps today will secure the future of this important cultural asset and protect fans and the wider football community.”
It was a hotly-contested sale process following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine three months ago and Boehly’s group had to guarantee 1.75 billion pounds ($2.2 billion) of investment in the team to be chosen as the new owners.
Chelsea had already agreed earlier this month to a deal with the consortium that features Boehly along with Dodgers principal owner Mark Walter, Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss, and funding from private equity firm Clearlake Capital.
Chelsea fans have become accustomed to lavish funding in the 19 years under Abramovich’s ownership, with more than $1 billion net spending on players who have helped the men’s team win 21 trophies.
Abramovich, who has not condemned the war, has said he would write off loans of more than $1.9 billion to Chelsea but that has been complicated by the sanctions put in place by the British government.
Chelsea’s ability to sell match tickets and commit to new player spending has been curbed by the sanctions.
The certainty is that Chelsea will be playing in the Champions League next season after finishing third in the Premier League last Sunday despite the off-field turmoil. The women’s team won a league and cup double with a squad funded by Abramovich’s investment.
Chelsea had won the men’s championship only once — in 1955 — when Abramovich bought the club in 2003. Helped by expensive signings, the club won the Premier League two years later and has added four more since then, most recently in 2017.
Investment is needed in Stamford Bridge. Chelsea has the smallest and most dated stadium of the Premier League’s most successful clubs, with plans for a rebuild of the 41,000-capacity venue put on hold by Abramovich in 2018 when British-Russian diplomatic tensions deepened.
The $3.1 billion cost of Chelsea eclipses the $2.3 billion paid in 2018 for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers.
As well as being part owner of the MLB’s Dodgers, Boehly also has minority stakes in the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers and WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks.