The English Football League approved the recent takeover of Leeds United by NFL team San Francisco 49ers. This marks the latest example of American investors acquiring controlling stakes in English football clubs. However, the 49ers are not new to soccer club ownership or Leeds United.
In 2018, the 49ers purchased 44% of Leeds United. The other 56% belonged to Andrea Radrizzani. On Tuesday, the Italian businessman sold that majority stake to the 49ers group, providing it with full ownership of the Elland Road club.
Owners of NFL teams expanding into the English soccer world is no new occurrence. In 2003, Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer bought Manchester United. More recently, Shahid Khan of Jacksonville Jaguars fame purchased Fulham FC in 2018. That same year, Stan Kroenke, the owner of the Los Angeles Rams, took full control of Arsenal.
Yet, American owners in the league do not need to be affiliated with NFL teams. Most recently in 2022, Todd Boehly’s investment group bought Chelsea from Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. Other American stakeholders in the Premier League include the Glazer family at Manchester United, John Henry at Liverpool and Wes Edens at Aston Villa.
While most American owners have focused on the lucrative Premier League, some have looked to the lower divisions. Hollywood actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney purchased fifth-tier Wrexham AFC in 2020. Their takeover and subsequent investment helped revitalize the club and the local community.
49ers takeover of Leeds brings back controversies of other clubs
The influx of American money has been a controversial topic among some football supporters in England. Critics argue it exemplifies the growing commercialization and loss of community in English football. However, many clubs have also benefited from increased investment and global brand exposure under American ownership.
The 49ers’ purchase of Leeds United will likely ignite similar debates as the club pushes for promotion back to the Premier League under its new backers.
PHOTO: IMAGO / PA Images
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