A billionaire brewing heir is backing one of the trio of consortia which remain in the hunt to buy Chelsea FC as the auction of the Premier League club enters its final stages.
Sky News has learnt that Alejandro Santo Domingo, a Colombian citizen who sits on the board of the Budweiser-owner ABInBev, is part of the investor group assembled by Sir Martin Broughton, the former Liverpool FC and British Airways chairman.
Insiders said on Monday that Mr Santo Domingo, who is estimated by Forbes magazine to be worth more than $2.5bn, would become a minority shareholder in Chelsea if the consortium spearheaded by Sir Martin is successful.
He was a director of SABMiller, the FTSE-100 beer giant, prior to its £78bn takeover in 2016 by AB InBev, and now serves on a string of corporate boards.
Mr Santo Domingo has joined arguably the most cosmopolitan of the three remaining bidders, with the Indian-born businessman Vivek Ranadive and the US-based private equity billionaires Josh Harris and Dave Blitzer also part of the British-led group.
A spokesman for the consortium declined to comment on Mr Santo Domingo’s involvement.
Preferred bidder could be named this month
Sir Martin’s bid is being advised by Michael Klein, an investment banker who worked with him when he was parachuted in as chairman of Liverpool FC in 2010.
It has support from Creative Artists Agency, the global talent management agency, and Evolution Media Capital, a sports advisory and financing partnership.
Lord Coe – who, like Sir Martin, is a long-standing Chelsea fan – has also thrown his weight behind the bid.
Mr Santo Domingo’s interest has emerged days after the deadline for final offers for Chelsea, with a preferred bidder potentially being identified as soon as this month.
Sky News revealed at the weekend that George Osborne, the former chancellor, had been parachuted in to help the Los Angeles Dodgers part-owner Todd Boehly’s bid for the Blues, which has been lodged with substantial financial backing from the San Francisco-based investment firm Clearlake Capital.
Club’s future in hands of ministers after Abramovich sanctioning
The auction of Chelsea has become arguably the most politically charged sports deal in British history, eclipsing even the controversial takeover of Newcastle United by a Saudi sovereign wealth fund-led consortium.
Roman Abramovich’s sanctioning by the government and disqualification by the Premier League as a director of the club he has owned since 2003 has left the Stamford Bridge outfit’s fate in the hands of ministers.
Raine Group, the merchant bank handling the sale, will be responsible for recommending a preferred bidder to the government in order to secure a special licence approving the sale.
The field of suitors for Chelsea shrank from four to three last week when a consortium involving the Chicago Cubs-owning Ricketts family, the Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert and the hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin withdrew from the process.
Its decision left the consortium headed by Sir Martin competing against that of Mr Boehly and a rival offer headed by Steve Pagliuca, the Boston Celtics co-owner, and Larry Tanenbaum, the NBA chairman who owns elite sports teams spanning football, basketball and ice hockey.
The True Blues Consortium – a Chelsea supporters’ group which counts former Blues captain John Terry among its founders – has thrown its weight behind Mr Pagliuca’s bid.
Final bids could see Chelsea value break record
More than 10,000 Chelsea fans have expressed an interest in owning shares worth more than £150m as part of the deal that will see Mr Abramovich replaced as the club’s owner.
Final bids, which were expected to value Chelsea at more than £2.5bn – which would break the record for a sports club takeover – were tabled last Thursday.
If selected in time, a preferred bidder will have an FA Cup Final between Chelsea and Liverpool to look forward to, although an at times lacklustre season in the Premier League and last week’s elimination from the Champions League have raised the prospect of a trophyless campaign at Stamford Bridge.
Sunday’s semi-final was against Crystal Palace, which for the time being is backed by Mr Harris and Mr Blitzer – both of whom would have to sell their shares in order to invest in Chelsea.
Sources close to the remaining bidders say that Raine has told them it may await clearance from the Premier League for all of the consortia before presenting a preferred bidder to ministers.
Scrutiny of the four bids by English football’s top flight has already got under way after the remaining consortia submitted details of their key investors to Raine more than two weeks 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 three consortia means the sale process may need to be extended.
Premier League magnet for financiers from across the Atlantic
All the bidders have been told to 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 buy it.
The sale process has been complicated by the sanctions against Mr Abramovich, but has not inhibited interest from a multitude of billionaires who either control or own stakes in a legion of North American teams spanning baseball, basketball and ice hockey.
The cluster of bidders underlines the extent to which the English Premier League has become a magnet for financiers from across the Atlantic during the past 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.
War in Ukraine’s impact on Chelsea
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.
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 conclusion to the auction sale is seen as essential if Chelsea is to avert the post-season 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.