Chelsea’s stadium, Stamford Bridge is seen through trees in London on March 10, 2022, as Chelsea’s Russian owner Roman Abramovich was hit with a UK assets freeze and travel ban, throwing his plans to sell the European and world club champions into disarray.
Justin Tallis | Afp | Getty Images
Lewis Hamilton and Serena Williams are committing millions of pounds to one of the bids vying to become the new owners of Chelsea.
Sky News can exclusively reveal the full line-up of investors backing the takeover offer for the club being spearheaded by Sir Martin Broughton, the former Liverpool and British Airways chairman – the most prominent of whom are the seven-times Formula 1 world champion and the former women’s world tennis No 1.
Sources close to the group said that Hamilton and Williams – the highest-profile members of any of the three remaining consortia – had pledged an estimated £10m each to the bid.
Both Hamilton, who will compete for Mercedes at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola this weekend – live on Sky Sports – and Williams, who has won 23 Grand Slams including seven Wimbledon titles, have become established investors in their own right in recent years.
Serena Ventures, the tennis star’s venture capital fund, this week announced an investment in Opensponsorship, a British-based sports technology start-up, while Hamilton has backed a range of early-stage companies such as Zapp, the London-based rapid grocery delivery app.
Their involvement in the Chelsea auction is unexpected – not least because Hamilton is an Arsenal fan.
Hamilton and Williams have, however, been in talks with the group spearheaded by Broughton for several weeks.
It was unclear on Thursday morning which corporate entities would be used by the pair to invest in the Blues.
The consortium is uniquely British-led among the trio of shortlisted bidders and features another UK sporting icon in the form of Sebastian Coe among its backers.
A source close to the group said the addition of Hamilton and Williams was a serious investment decision because of their experience at building global sports brands.
They also pointed out that the involvement of the pair was not the first time famous athletes had backed a Premier League club – NBA star LeBron James has been a small shareholder in Liverpool for more than a decade.
Under the consortium’s plans, Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment (HBSE), the holding company headed by American private equity billionaires Josh Harris and Dave Blitzer, would hold a controlling stake in Chelsea – although they will need to divest their minority shareholding in Crystal Palace prior to completing a deal.
Their involvement with the ownership and running of Crystal Palace since 2015 is also a distinctive factor among the remaining bidders for Chelsea.
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The Broughton-led group’s other investors include: Canada’s Rogers family, which holds a big interest in the media and telecoms company Rogers Communications; John Arnold, who chaired the Houston 2026 FIFA World Cup bid committee; and Taiwan’s Tsai family, which owns the Taipei Fubon Braves and Fubon Guardians baseball teams.
As Sky News reported on Monday, Alejandro Santo Domingo, an heir to one of the world’s biggest brewing fortunes and an investor in several North American sports franchises, is also investing in the bid.
Sources close to the offer led by Broughton said the diversity of its roster of global investors was among the factors that had persuaded Hamilton and Williams to become involved.
One insider suggested that Hamilton was likely to play a formal role in Chelsea’s future efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion if the bid is successful.
He and Williams have been advocates in their respective sports and beyond in promoting equality, lending their names to numerous anti-discrimination initiatives.
That issue was thrown into sharp focus earlier in the Chelsea sale process when one of the bidders – a consortium headed by the Chicago Cubs-owning Ricketts family – was forced to distance itself from historical Islamophobic remarks.
Broughton’s consortium is said to believe that it is best-placed of the remaining consortia to navigate the complexities of owning Chelsea, including the prospective redevelopment of its Stamford Bridge home.