The summer ownership takeover of Chelsea Football Club brought American Todd Boehly into the spotlight. Boehly, a front man for a consortium of investors, now heads one of the world’s most visible clubs.

Just months into the job, Boehly jumped head-first into club management. Most recently, he made some controversial statements about the future and health of the English game.

On Tuesday, Boehly made a suggestion the Premier League introduce an American-styled “All-Star Game.” The idea pits the northern clubs in Manchester or Liverpool and the Midlands against those in London and the south. Ideally, the American wants the match in the preseason, using the proceeds to fund clubs farther down in the league pyramid. This is badly needed, but perhaps could be better achieved in other ways. For instance, Premier League clubs themselves can pledge more money to grassroots efforts and lower leagues.

Also, Boehly also floated the idea of “playoff” for relegation, similar to that of Germany. He echoed those thoughts for European places, a platform used in the Netherlands.

Boehly’s Chelsea presents something new for American ownership in soccer

The previous high-level experience in sport Boehly boasts is running the Los Angeles Dodgers of Major League Baseball. It should be noted, the All-Star Game is a concept that originated in baseball. Traditionally, baseball priotizes the regular season more than other American sports. Yet, more recently, MLB expanded its playoff structure, taking away from some of the significance of the regular season.

In particular, the All-Star Game suggestion created controversy in the United Kingdom. Even Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp denounced the idea following his Champions League victory on Tuesday. The idea appears to be a non-starter, but it’s critical to assess why Boehly would make it to begin with. 

To truly understand Boehly’s suggestions, we need to review his first few months in control of Chelsea. Moreover, examine the long-term ownership goals he and his group desire. His stewardship is likely to be very different than not only that of his Chelsea predecessor, Roman Abramovich. Boehly’s time at Chelsea will differ from other big-club ownership groups.

Photo: Imago

Photo: Imago

Photo: Imago

Boehly’s changes

Initially upon taking control, Boehly chose to sack Chelsea’s three leading executives. He did this without designating logical replacements. Rather, the American took the reigns, albeit just temporarily, of the sporting side of the club. He bought and sold players in a fashion long-term executives or sporting directors would at clubs comparable to Chelsea. Boehly did this despite having zero experience in European soccer. 

Boehly’s summer of transfer spending and quick trigger on the sacking of Manager Thomas Tuchel has many in the UK media bothered. For example, popular pundit and former Manchester United player Gary Neville complained that Boehly is playing a real-life version of “Football Manager.” From the vantage point of seasoned analysts of the English game, Chelsea overpaid for several transfers. Instead of plugging holes in the squad, he added parts to a side that overloaded certain positions.

In fairness, Boehly inherited an unbalanced squad. However, it has become even further out-of-whack since his takeover.

A key factor to understand in assessing Boehly is that his group is largely private equity and investment banking. Clearlake Capital, Boehly’s group, differs from other Amerrican investors in big clubs. The goal is to raise the value of the asset they’ve purchased, more than short-term profits and floating a club publicly.

This makes Chelsea’s business model different from that of the Glazer family at Manchester United, for example. A desire for short-term profits and yearly dividend payments are at the heart of the Glazer’s stewardship of United. However, Boehly looks to be a long-term player. He wants to raise the value of the asset he is managing for the consortium he represents.

This also explains his quick-trigger appointment of Graham Potter from Brighton, a Manager who is a stylistic builder, rather than a short-term results-oriented one. 

Premier League All-Star game

The suggestion of an All-Star Game to fund the pyramid is largely about raising the value of Chelsea. It makes the health of the English football pyramid stronger. Boehly, unlike the other American owners, wants a healthy structure. Therefore, the assets he manages continue to appreciate in value.

This is a different approach than other US owners, like FSG at Liverpool and the Glazers. In fact, the Glazers were the masterminds behind the infamous Project Big Picture. This 2020 proposal aimed to five big Premier League clubs an even bigger financial advantage over the rest of the pyramid. 

Boehly’s All-Star Game suggestion is absurd in a calendar that is already congested. His playoff suggestions irk the traditionalists domestically in the sport. But, fundamentally, he’s looking at this from a different angle than the US-based owners of Liverpool and Manchester United. Boehly is probably looking at the stability of Manchester City with its stated “holistic” approach as a model to emulate. Yet, given his experience in American sport, it comes with the usual American sporting suggestions. 

It is easy to write off Boehly’s All-Star Game and playoff ideas as usual Americanization. It is much deeper than that. His recent suggestions are irritating and ultimately unneeded. Unlike some of Boehly’s American ownership counterparts, he is looking at a long-term project. That project focuses around increasing the visibility and, consequently, the economic viability of the English game. 

This, he believes, ultimately benefits Chelsea and the investors he represents in the future.