Todd Boehly’s vision for Chelsea? Glamor spectacle and ruthless profit | Chelsea

A Billionaire makes a spectacular takeover of one of the world’s most respected sporting institutions and immediately embarks on a lavish, jawbone-loosening spending spree. Signings pile up like presents under the Christmas tree. Debts run into the hundreds of millions and arouse the ire and envy of their rivals. But it works on its own terms: success is duly bought, people are appeased, sport gently bends to its will.

This is the story of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team under Todd Boehly and his business partners, and for all the sense of disaster and upheaval that has surrounded Chelsea of ​​late, the most striking of all is what hasn’t changed. The results on the field have largely remained the same: the same players and the same coach play football at roughly the same level in front of roughly the same people. Third place and Champions League football next season were assured. And now one ambitious tycoon was simply replaced by another.

With all the familiar mood music, it’s easy to forget the unspeakable oddity of the events that have brought us to this point. The game as a whole largely forgot, or at least internalized, the systematic murder of the Ukrainian people. Shall we talk about the lessons football can learn from its leniency towards a man accused by the British government of having ‘the blood of the Ukrainian people on his hands’? Or should we talk about what this all means for Romelu Lukaku’s future? Football has long had an unrivaled talent for extracting the serious from the trivial, and recent weeks have shown that the reverse might just as well be true.

We’ve also seen this in some of the flattering early press coverage of Boehly’s arrival in London. Look he stopped to take a selfie with some fans! Look, he wears a hoodie and jeans like a normal person! Perhaps there is a legitimate difference here with the reclusive and untouchable Roman Abramovich, the genuine hope of Chelsea fans that this possession could offer more of a recognizable human face. But we should also remember what is important and what is not.

Mike Ashley wore a Newcastle shirt and drank pints in the stands. Michael Knighton stood on the pitch at Old Trafford juggling a football. The Venkys promised to bring Ronaldinho to Blackburn Rovers. None of this was a reliable portent of anything. If you can afford to buy a Premier League football club, let’s assume you can also afford to hire a PR firm.

So, given all the smoke and deception, what can we realistically expect from Boehly-era Chelsea? The prevailing view seems to be that Chelsea are run along the lines of the Dodgers, who over the past decade have gone from lavish underachievers to one of the sport’s brightest forces and – by far – its biggest spenders.

Todd Boehly takes his place in the director's box before kick-off.
Todd Boehly takes his place in the director’s box before kick-off. Photo: Eddie Keogh/Getty Images

In the first four years of ownership by the Guggenheim — the management company of which Boehly was president — the Dodgers spent $1 billion on new players. Visitor numbers began to rise steadily. In 2020, the Dodgers finally ended their 32-year wait for a World Series win.

If the skeletal details of the Dodgers’ takeover bear some similarities to Abramovich’s arrival at Chelsea in 2003, a closer look reveals some of the differences as well. The Dodgers were a serially failing organization in 2012, marked not only by mismanagement and apathy but also by an underlying sense of waste. There was much low-hanging fruit to pick; simple sources of income can be developed.

But Chelsea will not be allowed to sell its own television rights, as the Dodgers did in a remarkable £6.8billion deal with Time Warner to set up their own channel. They don’t own much land around Stamford Bridge, which limits opportunities for expansion and redevelopment. The scouting and youth development structures – significantly strengthened under Guggenheim – are already well financed and largely profitable. Of course there are inefficiencies – CoughSaúl Ñíguez on £200,000 a week – but as an organization Chelsea are starting from a much higher base in 2022, leaving the open question of exactly what success will look like.

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Here’s the flip side of the Boehly master plan: a virtuous cycle of investment and revenue generation that Chelsea fans will enjoy as long as they don’t mind doing a lot of the investing themselves. Success has come at a high price for Dodgers supporters: the cheapest season tickets at Dodger Stadium are now £1,400, more than four times what they were a decade ago. The most expensive are over £13,000, an increase of almost 150%.

Parking fees have increased at a similar rate. A portion of fries in a plastic baseball helmet costs £8. And while the 2013 Time Warner deal was a clear bottom line win, it essentially excommunicated the 50% of Southern California’s population who couldn’t receive the new channel by 2020.

This is perhaps the truly defining theme of Boehly’s vision for elite sport: as premium consumer entertainment, a cold product served with warm sentiments. Of course, Chelsea fans have a part to play in all of this: after all, you are his co-investors, partners in this dizzying venture. You go on a journey with him. He promises you thrills, lavish hospitality and a front-row seat at the greatest show on earth. In the meantime, he’ll direct you to Dana, who will take your direct debit mandate and share more details on exciting new products in the CFC metaverse.

In a way, this is the main difference between the Abramovich and Boehly eras. For Chelsea fans, the Abramovich years were a sugar-coated dreamscape, a lavish pageant whose surreality stemmed from the fact that no one could really figure out why all of this was happening.

Protection? Politics? Prestigious? Pure mood? Boehly, on the other hand, is a creature of pure commerce, green and red arrows, charts, and 10-year returns. You can cheer him on through the front door or turn your back on him. But at least no one can say they weren’t warned.

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