This is certainly a difficult time for Chelsea Football Club. The owner sanctioned, the club restricted in how it can operate, desperately looking for a new owner. And while more than 30 parties have apparently made a bid to buy the club, fans will worry over the suitability of anyone coming in. Will they simply strip the assets of the clubs, as Liverpool’s owners were before FSG took over to create one of the most formidable teams in the country? Or will they use the club as a bargaining chip as the Glazers have at Manchester United, saddling the club with a huge amount of debt that wasn’t there before they were, even taking money out of the club for themselves. At this point, and in this political landscape, it seems very unlikely that it will be a state backed company that takes over the club. So, it will be either an individual or a consortium that takes over the club. But will they be willing to invest to the same degree that has brought so much success to Stamford Bridge over the last 20 years?
Football is not a very profitable business, in terms of making a big profit. Barcelona are a prime example of how you can make huge amounts of money, like ridiculous amounts and still end up in financial catastrophe. Now most, if not all of that was due to some very stupid decisions from the Barcelona board at the time, but at the same time that they were generating nearly 750 million euros in revenue, they were edging ever closer to being a billion euros in debt. I can’t think of a single Premier League club apart from those that came up from the championship at the start of the season who run anywhere near close to breaking even, never mind making a profit. Everton have made a loss of over £250 million over the last two years and are set to make another loss in the tens of millions this year. This is a side who have ambitions of playing in European competition regularly, of starting to challenge for trophies, of building a new stadium. How can they do all of that if they are losing money hand over fist? Because they have investors that will keep the teams afloat and look to complete the various projects associated with the club.
Owning a European football club is also not like running any other business. There is a vast amount of people who may not hold actual shares in the business entity of the club but who hold emotional shares. Anyone who supports a football club holds emotional shares in that club. So, whoever takes over Chelsea has to get the fans onside and quickly. And the quickest way to do that will be to invest heavily right across the board. Not just in the men’s first team squad but in the women’s squad, in the academy, the club’s facilities including the stadium. That was the only thing Roman Abramovich failed to achieve during his ownership of the club. And that was primarily down to political issues in the wake of the Salisbury gas attack. Redeveloping Stamford Bridge would finally, well and truly bring the club up to the highest level of the game in this country. For all the success the club has enjoyed in the last 20 years, the fact that the stadium holds less than 42,000 is something that holds the club back. But the costs are estimated to be extraordinarily high, so would the new owners be willing to put that amount of money into the project? Most people who have put bids in have some sort of statement on redeveloping the Stamford Bridge site, which is encouraging.
Chelsea fans are right to be concerned about who takes over the club. We have all seen clubs in recent years who were destroyed by terrible owners. But it is also an opportunity to put the fans front and centre and give them a real voice in how the club is run. Some of the bidders have already said they will explore the best way to get fans more involved in the running of the club, including full implementing the recommendations of Tracy Crouch’s Fan-Led Review. Chelsea could set the template for better club ownership going forward. And that would be a brilliant legacy for new owners to have.