June 3, 2023

Steve Pagliuca has hinted that he will reduce his recently acquired stake in Italian Serie A side Atalanta if he is successful with his bid for the Stamford Bridge club in a statement given exclusively to Sky News.

The co-owner of the Boston Celtics basketball team has broken his silence over his interest in buying Chelsea Football Club by publicly declaring his intention to “cherish and preserve” the London side and hinting that he would be prepared to reduce his stake in the Serie A side Atalanta.

Sky News can reveal that Steve Pagliuca, the private equity billionaire who chairs Bain Capital, will on Tuesday publicly make a string of commitments relating to Chelsea’s men’s and women’s teams, community initiatives and honouring the heritage of last season’s Champions League winners.

In a statement given exclusively to Sky News, Mr Pagliuca will say that the auction of Chelsea, which has been prompted by Roman Abramovich’s sanctioning by the government, “has been a disconcerting time for the football club and fans”.

“Throughout my life and career, my ethos has always been to operate quietly, with integrity, and let my actions and results speak loudly.

“However, it is imperative to clarify and assure supporters about our bid group and its commitments, to emphasize how seriously we take our potential responsibility to Chelsea.”

Mr Pagliuca and a group of co-investors only recently bought a controlling stake in Atalanta, a shareholding that could cause complications if they and Chelsea ever appear in the same European club competition.

Under UEFA rules, if two clubs majority-owned by the same entity are drawn against each other in competitions, one would have to agree to forfeit the tie.

In his statement, Mr Pagliuca said his bid for Chelsea, which will be tabled ahead of a deadline on Thursday, would be “substantial and credible – one that we expect will meet the respective requirements and regulations of the Premier League, UK Government and UEFA – and we pledge to honor our commitment to credibility and good guardianship of Chelsea Football Club from day one”.

One insider said the reference to UEFA was a tacit acknowledgement that he may have to reduce or divest altogether his interest in the Italian club.

Sky News revealed this week that Mr Pagliuca had enlisted the chairman of the world’s richest basketball league to join his consortium.

Larry Tanenbaum, who chairs the National Basketball Association (NBA) and owns a host of North American sports teams, John Burbank, founder of the San Francisco hedge fund Passport Capital, and Eduardo Saverin, the Facebook co-founder who was the first investor in the tech behemoth, are among his backers.

Bob Iger, the former Walt Disney chairman, is also thought to be involved with Mr Pagliuca.

In his statement, the Boston Celtics co-owner wished the Blues “the very best of luck ahead of tonight’s Champions League match against Real Madrid”.

“Having witnessed a great 6-0 win against Southampton last week, I hope to see a comeback for the ages against Real Madrid in the quarter-final second leg,” he said.

“Our first focus and goal is to make strategic investments to continue competing for championships and trophies.”

He also echoed commitments made by other bidders never to allow Chelsea to join a revived European Super League project.

“We will support our players and managers to make sure that Chelsea are habitual winners and title contenders, whether in the Premier League, Champions League or the Women’s Super League [the only Super League we intend competing in, for the record].

“In addition, we will continue to invest in the youth academy to develop the stars of the future and we would not be in this process if we did not have an exciting and inclusive vision for Chelsea.”

Mr Pagliuca said his consortium would “continue to cherish and preserve the legacy and traditions of the club”.

“In over 20 years of ownership of the Boston Celtics, we have not once considered changing the name, colours, or logo of the club. This is our guarantee to Chelsea fans.”

He added that under his ownership, Chelsea would remain at Stamford Bridge, but with resources committed to renovating or redeveloping the stadium.

“Chelsea is a world-class team, in a world-class city, with world-class fans: it deserves a world-class stadium,” he said.

“Our third focus will be having a significant positive impact in the community.

“We believe passionately that clubs have a social responsibility and we will continue to support The Chelsea Foundation and its impressive work in education, health and wellbeing, and diversity and inclusion both locally and globally.

“Chelsea should be the Pride of London for its on and off-field accomplishments.

“It has fans all over the world and we will not tolerate bullying, antisemitism, racism, or any other form of hateful speech – and neither should our fans.”

Mr Pagliuca said he understood “the responsibilities that come with such an important sporting institution and hold ourselves accountable to the fans”.

His statement is among the most detailed released so far by any of the bidders for the club, with Raine Group, the merchant bank overseeing the sale, expected to recommend a preferred offer to the government – which must issue a licence approving the sale – in the coming weeks.

Raine is considering awaiting clearance from the Premier League for all four consortia before presenting a preferred bidder to the government.

Scrutiny of the four bids by English football’s top flight has already got underway after the remaining consortia submitted details of their key investors to Raine eleven days ago.

The Premier League is expected to take the remainder of this month to evaluate those involved in the bids – who include a string of US billionaires and pillars of the British corporate establishment – and its work to approve all four consortia means the process may need to be extended.

In addition to Mr Pagliuca’s consortium, the bidders comprise: a group led by Sir Martin Broughton, the former Liverpool and British Airways chairman, which includes the billionaire Crystal Palace shareholders Dave Blitzer and Josh Harris; a bid spearheaded by Todd Boehly, the LA Dodgers part-owner, which includes backing from Clearlake Capital, a US investment firm; and the Chicago Cubs-owning Ricketts family, who have teamed up with Cleveland Cavaliers-owner Dan Gilbert and the hedge fund tycoon Ken Griffin.

They have all been told they must provide legal undertakings that they will guarantee at least £1bn of investment in the club’s infrastructure, its academy and women’s team if they acquire it in the coming weeks.

The sale process has been complicated by the sanctions against Mr Abramovich and the frenzy of interest in buying last season’s Champiosn League-winners.

Between them, the final bidders either control or own stakes in a legion of North American teams spanning baseball, basketball and ice hockey.

The cluster of American sports billionaires circling Chelsea underlines the extent to which the English Premier League has become a magnet for financiers from across the Atlantic during the last 20 years.

Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United have all been acquired by US-based businessmen during that period, and a significant number of other top-flight clubs also have American backing.

Last season’s Champions League-winners have been thrown into disarray by Russia’s war on Ukraine, with Mr Abramovich initially proposing to place the club in the care of its foundation and then formally putting it up for sale.

By the standards of conventional takeover processes, the Chelsea auction has moved at breakneck speed, with executives at other major investment banks suggesting that such a complex sale would typically have taken at least six months.

Prior to being sanctioned, Mr Abramovich had said he intended to write off a £1.5bn loan to the club and hand the net proceeds from the sale to a new charity that he would set up to benefit the victims of the war in Ukraine.

A rapid sale is seen as essential if Chelsea is to avert the uncertainty that would trigger the break-up of one of the top flight’s most valuable playing squads.

Mr Abramovich had initially slapped a £3bn price tag on the Stamford Bridge outfit, with the net proceeds being donated to a charitable foundation set up to benefit the victims of the war in Ukraine.

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