Todd Boehly bets big in the transfer market

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Bill Foley is not wasting any time. The US billionaire made his first move into football just a few weeks ago, buying English Premier League minnows Bournemouth for £120mn. Last week he added a minority stake in Ligue 1 team FC Lorient, part of his plan to create a multi-club football group.

On Thursday, the two clubs made a trade. Winger Dango Ouattara moved from Foley’s French club to his English one, for a fee of around £20mn. 

Lorient fans aren’t happy about it. They published an open letter criticising their new shareholder and his multiclub aspirations. Fellow US investor John Textor faced a similarly frosty reception in London this week, as Crystal Palace fans held up banners protesting the multiclub model. With more and more clubs being subsumed into international football groups, these early signs of supporter pushback are worth keeping an eye on.

Do read on — Josh Noble, sports editor 

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Chelsea: money, money, money © Tony Obrien/Reuters

An in-demand star, a monster pay packet, a lengthy contract, and a coup for an ambitious team owned by Todd Boehly. The 2020 signing of Mookie Betts to the LA Dodgers on a 12-year, $365mn contract still stands as one of the biggest player deals in the history of sport. But it did help the Dodgers win their first World Series title since 1988.

In football, a “long-term” player contract would typically refer to something lasting around five years. But Boehly’s big-spending Chelsea have been pushing the Overton window. Their latest headline grabbing signing, Ukraine’s Mykhailo Mudryk, has penned a deal lasting more than eight years. Other recent arrivals, such as Benoit Badiashile and Wesley Fofana, have committed to the Blues for at least seven years.

Chelsea have gone gangbusters in the transfer market since being bought by US investors last year. Their total spending since then has reached £370mn, with more signings still to come. No club has ever spent so much in a single season, raising questions about how the new owners plan to make their £2.5bn purchase from Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich pay off.

Pushing out the length of the contract does a couple of things for a football club. For one, it spreads the cost of the transfer fee over a longer period, reducing the annual drag on the accounts as the club amortises the initial outlay. In the short-term, that should keep Chelsea on the right side of financial fair play rules, as this detailed explanation by Swiss Ramble, the football accounting blog, makes clear.

Long contracts might also help keep a lid on the biggest drag on football finances: player wage inflation. Revenue for most top football clubs has been on the rise for years, fuelled by chunky commercial deals and the boom in TV and streaming rights. But many teams have struggled to turn that into profits due to growing wage bills. Chelsea’s wages-to-revenue ratio in the 2021-22 season was 71 per cent, according to Deloitte, the highest of the big six clubs in England.

If Boehly’s transfer gamble works, he’ll have built an elite squad tied to long-term deals that will challenge for titles for years to come, enabling the club to focus on boosting its commercial business and generating cash by selling academy prospects. That would be good news for the balance sheet.

But there are plenty of risks. Long contracts commit the club to players with no guarantee they will deliver. Chelsea has a patchy transfer history, with a lot of big name signings failing to live up to the hype. Many of the club’s recent signings play in similar positions, reducing their potential impact on the pitch and increasing the risk of disharmony in a bloated squad.

Meanwhile the Premier League is getting ever more competitive. Chelsea currently sit 10th, way off the pace needed to reach the Champions League. These days even mid-table obscurity can be a very expensive business.

Saudi Arabia’s next top golf show

LIV Golf: on the network © Paul Childs/Action Images via Reuters

From the network which brought you America’s Next Top Model, the latest programming on the CW this winter will be Saudi Arabia’s next top breakaway golf league.

LIV Golf, the disruptive professional golf tour upending links around the world and backed by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, has finally found a broadcast home in the US on an unusual channel: the CW network. It’s best known for teen dramas like Dawson’s Creek and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and it’s never been a destination for live, mainstream sport . . . until now.

The deal agreed this week is in part the result of the unusual market situation facing LIV. Traditional sports networks already in business with the establishment PGA Tour were loath to take up the league, which happens to be backed by a sovereign government castigated for murdering a dissident journalist. CBS, NBC and ABC all have deals with the PGA, and had shied away from negotiations with LIV — particularly as both tours are engaged in lawsuits against one another. You can watch our short animation on LIV’s ambitions here.

As the market for live sports goes gangbusters, other deep-pocketed competitors in the tech industry have opted instead to pay for known sports products, with Apple, Amazon and Google spending billions apiece for rights to Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer and the National Football League over the past couple of years.

That leaves a network like the CW — the successor of two predecessor free-to-air US channels, the WB and UPN — whose niche has long been largely scripted entertainment for young adult audiences. Amid a long term and widespread shift from cable consumption to streaming, today’s American teens have plentiful options for content, from Netflix to HBO to Hulu and beyond. Even reruns of popular CW programmes, like Gossip Girl and Gilmore Girls, have migrated to streaming platforms like Netflix for present-day audiences to enjoy.

But changes are afoot. The CW was acquired last year by Nexstar Media Group, a consortium of about 200 local television broadcasters in the US, whose executives told investors in November that they plan to reposition the network away from developing programming targeted for syndication, and instead use its audience — the CW app has 90mn downloads — to help tap into the larger, more lucrative national advertising market. Adding sports programming is a natural fit to that strategy.

Still, golf has long had an audience engagement problem even before the arrival of LIV last year. Its popularity trends older and male, while most sports often dream of attracting young, diverse audiences who they can grow for life. Early, free streaming broadcasts of LIV events — presented on Facebook and YouTube last summer — showed live viewership in the thousands, not millions, according to a report in the Washington Post.

Could LIV Golf revive foundering viewership at CW? Nexstar is hoping it will. It is targeting a profit for the network by 2025. Yet with the fledgling tour in its early days and with litigation between the two golf tours ongoing, it’s still an unproven product.

Book now for the FT’s Business of Football Summit: Join LaLiga President Javier Tebas, new AC Milan owner Gerry Cardinale, super agent Rafaela Pimenta and more at the Business of Football Summit on 1-2 March, to discuss the new wave of investment flowing into the game. As a scoreboard subscriber, register for your complimentary digital pass or save £360 on your in-person pass to join us at The Biltmore Mayfair, on 2 March. Offer ends Thursday. Register here:


Manchester United: trophy asset © Adam Vaughan/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
  • British chemicals billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe has entered the formal process to buy Manchester United. The US Glazer family, which is considering strategic options for the club, could sell before the end of the season. Can Ratcliffe win his boyhood team?

  • Juventus have been docked 15 points after an investigation into the club’s finances. The Serie A team had been third in the table and in the hunt for a Champions League spot, but have now dropped down to 10th. The club plans to appeal the decision.

  • The new owners of French football team Olympique Lyonnais have plans to float their multi-club business in the US this year via a blank cheque company. They’re targeting a $1.2bn valuation for a group that also includes Botafogo of Brazil, Belgian second tier club RWD Molenbeek, and a 40 per cent stake in Premier League club Crystal Palace.

  • Zhao Xintong and Yan Bingtao were among 10 Chinese snooker players charged with match fixing by the game’s governing body this week. Around 50mn people are estimated to play snooker in China, a key market for a game that originated as an off-duty pursuit for British military officers stationed in India in the 19th century.

  • Sports streaming site DAZN has reached a distribution deal with Amazon, meaning its content will now be available as an add-on channel via Prime Video. DAZN has been struggling to sign up enough subscribers to offset the cost of expensive rights, and recently posted an annual operating loss of over $1.3bn. 

Break point

Andy Murray: durable © @wwos

Andy Murray’s tenacity was never in doubt. Plagued by injuries, the Scottish star’s career had looked all but over in 2019. The 35-year-old’s remarkable comeback from hip surgery — it’s a bit metal these days — continued to wow tennis fans at the Australian Open. He never gave up against local favourite Thanasi Kokkinakis, coming from two sets down to win a match that finished after four in the morning. That’s endurance. Watch the killer point here.

Scoreboard is written by Josh Noble, Samuel Agini and Arash Massoudi in London, Sara Germano, James Fontanella-Khan, and Anna Nicolaou in New York, with contributions from the team that produce the Due Diligence newsletter, the FT’s global network of correspondents and data visualisation team

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