Former Apollo executive Josh Harris explores bid for Chelsea FC

Josh Harris, the US billionaire and former top executive at Apollo Global Management, is exploring a bid for Chelsea football club, according to people familiar with the matter.

Russian-Israeli billionaire Roman Abramovich said last week he was putting the club up for sale and waiving £ 1.5bn in debt he is owed, pledging that the net proceeds from the deal would go to the victims of the war in Ukraine.

His move to sell the club came days after the UK imposed sanctions on several oligarchs connected to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the UK’s opposition Labor party, called on Boris Johnson’s government to impose sanctions on Abramovich too.

Along with Blackstone executive David Blitzer, Harris co-owns a portfolio of sports holdings, including a minority stake in Crystal Palace football club. Harris, who is managing the owner of the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team, had been weighing an offer for Chelsea but has not yet submitted one, said three people briefed on his plans.

Any bid for Abramovich’s club by Harris would likely require a divestiture from Crystal Palace, which is part of the US financiers’ Harris Blitzer Sports and Entertainment portfolio, one of the people said.

A spokesman for Harris declined to comment.

Harris is one of several wealthy Americans considering a purchase of Chelsea. The club has been owned for the past two decades by Abramovich, who made his fortune after the tumultuous collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s as Russia privatised its oil industry.

The preferred buyers would be either a Europe-based individual or a US billionaire rather than a person connected to a sovereign state, one of the people said. That would set it apart from Newcastle, owned by a Saudi Arabia-led investment group, and Manchester City, which is controlled by the Abu Dhabi royal family.

Todd Boehly, the entertainment investor and co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, and a consortium led by the Ricketts family, which owns the Chicago Cubs baseball team, are also two leading contenders for Chelsea, according to multiple people briefed about the matter.

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In 2018, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the British-born billionaire founder of chemicals group Ineos, showed interest in buying the club, as did the private equity group Silver Lake.

Other executives reportedly weighing bids for the London club include Vivek Ranadivé, owner of the Sacramento Kings basketball team, and Woody Johnson, the New York Jets American football team owner and former US ambassador to the UK.

Abramovich has mandated his advisor Joe Ravitch at US boutique merchant bank Raine to contact wealthy individuals interested in taking over Chelsea. The divestment of the club would be one of the most high-profile sales of a Premier League team in years.

The sale of Chelsea is still in its early stages and bids are expected to be made in the middle of March, according to two people familiar with the process. Any transaction is then likely to take ‘at least six weeks’ to close, according to one of the people. Several people said a sale could fetch more than ¬£ 3bn.

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