The Chelsea sale is back on.
The U.K. government has told the bankers running the process they can resume selling the European soccer team, according to someone familiar with the process. The sale was halted earlier this week after the U.K. sanctioned current Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich due to his alleged ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Because of the delay, prospective bidders have been told to submit initial offers by March 18, the person said. The previous deadline had been March 15.
A representative for U.K.’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Representatives for Chelsea and the Raine Group, which is handling the sale process for the club, declined to comment.
Chelsea is one of the most successful and valuable soccer clubs in the world. Sportico recently valued the team at $3.35 billion. It’s also runs a large deficit—Abramovich was losing nine figures annually due to uncapped player expenses and other costs.
The decision to sanction Abramovich and seize his assets tossed the club and the process into disarray—Chelsea received a special license to continue playing in games, with restrictions on commercial activities like player transfers, travel costs, and the sale of tickets and merchandise. Those limits remain in place.
Chris Philip, Britain’s technology minister, reportedly said Friday that according to the club’s current license, a sale would not be allowed. “However, if a buyer emerged it would be open to that buyer or to that football club to approach the government and ask for the conditions to be varied in a way that allows that sale to take place,” Philip told Sky News.
When he announced that he was selling the team last week, Abramovich promised to forgive the roughly $2 billion that he personally loaned to the team, and that he would donate the “net proceeds” to a foundation supporting the victims of the war in Ukraine. It’s unclear how much all of that changes now that Abramovich’s assets have been seized.
It’s rare for a soccer team in Europe’s top tier to hit the market, and the Chelsea process is happening amid a shift in attitudes about the types of investors who have propped up European soccer for the past decade. Fans and governments are souring on investors from countries with spotty human rights records, Russian oligarchs are off the table, and Chinese billionaires have stopped investing in soccer clubs almost entirely.
–With assistance from Eben Novy-Williams