The Chelsea sale is down to three bidders.
The group led by the Ricketts family, owners of baseball’s Chicago Cubs, did not submit a final bid for the European soccer giant when they were due this week. Bids from the other three groups, all led by U.S. team owners, are all expected to top $4 billion, which would make it the most expensive price ever paid for a sports team.
The Ricketts consortium, which included hedge fund titan Ken Griffin and Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, said Friday in a statement that it made the decision after “careful consideration.”
“In the process of finalizing their proposal, it became increasingly clear that certain issues could not be addressed given the unusual dynamics around the sale process,” the statement said. It was not specific about those dynamics.
The Ricketts bid had been marred by questions due to comments disparaging of Islam that Joe Ricketts, the 80-year-old family patriarch, made in emails that were leaked in 2019. Chelsea fans have protested their bid outside the team’s stadium, and the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust recently said 77% of its members do not support the Ricketts family as future owners of the club.
The three remaining groups are all led by U.S. franchise owners. They are Philadelphia 76ers owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer; Boston Celtics owner Steve Pagliuca; and Todd Boehly, an investor in the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Lakers.
There’s no set timetable for a new owner to be selected, but this process has moved quicker than most billion-dollar franchise auctions. Current Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich announced he would sell the team about five weeks ago, and despite many complicating factors—war in Ukraine, frozen assets, sanctions, special licenses and even a potential poisoning—the sale drew unprecedented interest.