Chelsea, the premier English soccer club, is losing the deep pockets of ousted Russian oligarch owner Roman Abramovich. But if, as expected this week, a group led by American Todd Boehly closes on a multibillion-dollar purchase of the team, Chelsea is gaining a deal-maker whose name seems to come up in nearly every background conversation with sports business movers and shakers. Somehow, when a deal happens, people want—or expect—Boehly to be involved. And Boehly’s track record shows he’s happy to oblige.
Indeed, even when deals go bad, Boehly keeps the personal connection alive. Over the course of 2020 and 2021, for example, Boehly’s special purpose acquisition company, Horizon II, pursued Sportradar, a private firm hotly coveted by Wall Street.
More than once Boehly’s group believed it had struck deals worth many billions of dollars to bring Sportradar public, only to have one of Sportradar’s backers demand it seek ever higher valuations. When Boehly finally got the sports data and analytics company to ink a deal, at $10 billion, the SPAC market had turned from raucous to retrenched. Outside investors necessary to complete the transaction balked at the price, and the deal collapsed. In August, Sportradar decided to go public by IPO. That left Horizon II in a position where it may well have to close shop and return money to investors in six months, costing Boehly, as the SPAC’s sponsor, millions of dollars in fees.
Yet on Sept. 14, when Sportradar founder Carsten Koerl walked to the Nasdaq podium for the bell ringing ceremony with Michael Jordan, an early investor in the business, the only other person to join them there for photos was Boehly. Jordan gave Boehly a welcoming pat on the back, and the trio posed with the financial tombstones—lucite trophies commemorating the IPO. While dozens of Sportradar executives crowded around them for the opening of trading, Koerl and Boehly shared a laugh.
As it turned out, Boehly’s main business, a conglomerate named Eldridge, joined in a syndicate that bought $159 million of shares at Sportradar’s IPO. Boehly’s cut wasn’t significant, in that he isn’t among major shareholders disclosed to regulators—but it got him to the Nasdaq podium.
Boehly, like many colleagues from his 20 years of dealmaking, and like the organizations mentioned in this article, declined or didn’t respond to requests for comment for this story. But one person involved in the Chelsea deal said Boehly’s real genius is his use of other peoples’ money. Although he is the headline name in the multibillion-dollar bid for the club, Boehly isn’t the main source of funding.
That distinction belongs to Clearlake Capital. Clearlake is a Santa Monica, Calif., manager of $65 billion in assets, whose owners include Goldman Sachs, Ares Management and Blue Owl, the parent of NBA team investor Dyal Capital. Clearlake specializes in operational improvements, seeking to actively boost how investment businesses are run. Its dozens of past and current investments include PrimeSport, a sports and events experience venture; country club operator ConcertGolf; fracking industry suppliers; and healthy snack makers. Presumably, Clearlake’s expertise will be leveraged to address Chelsea’s pressing needs, such as a new stadium and funding its massive payroll amid the rather restricted economics of English soccer.
It’s a good bet the main money Boehly’s Eldridge is contributing to the Chelsea buy comes from elsewhere, too. Swiss billionaire Hansöjrg Wyss has invested more than $1.3 billion in Eldridge over the years and owns a “significant” portion of the venture, according to an Eldridge press release. Wyss, who started a medical device business and sold it for $20 billion, now lives in Wyoming, supporting conservation and educational causes.
Boehly’s ability to get others to buy into his talent for crafting deals extends even to his family foundation. When he and wife Katie started the Boehly Family Foundation in 2008, it was funded by six $5,000 gifts from business associates, according to publicly available tax returns—executives who now lead Eldridge subsidiaries, a lawyer who has worked on Boehly deals and two California designers. Two years into the foundation’s operation, the Boehlys kicked in their own $70,000. It gives modest sums annually to local police, fire and music education groups.
Undoubtedly wealthy, and reportedly a billionaire himself, Boehly doesn’t present the typical profile of a Forbes 400 titan. He lives in a leafy Connecticut suburb of New York City, in a town with a hedge fund billionaire or two and plenty more people who seem more like Boehly, classic strivers moving up from the middle class by excelling at their profession. It’s a neighborhood filled with mortgage-backed security bankers and corporate bankruptcy attorneys.
While that part of his life may not be particularly ostentatious, his investments in sports have been attention-getters. Boehly told Sportico’s Scott Soshnick in an interview last fall that he finds investment in sports “intellectually challenging,” and added, “by the way, winning is valuable.”
Boehly’s winning knack comes from Wall Street. The William & Mary graduate cut his teeth in the mid-1990s slicing and dicing debt—collateralized debt obligations (CDOs)—resold to institutional investors.
In a 2013 interview with Stephanie Ruhle, Boehly, then president of Guggenheim Investments, a money management firm spawned by the wealthy New York family, expressed an investment philosophy that likely makes him appealing to both team owners and investors today: He invests with a long time horizon.
“Our shareholders aren’t looking at us saying, what did you do for us the last 90 days?” Boehly said. “They’re looking at us saying, all right, where are you going in five years? Where are you going in 10 years?”
The long view got Boehly into his highest profile investment before Chelsea, and it suggests how Chelsea may fare under his guidance. Ten years ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers franchise was in the wilderness and a shadow of its former self. Owner Frank McCourt was in bankruptcy and fighting legal battles with Major League Baseball, and the team was even outbid for an aging bench player by the always-cash strapped Pittsburgh Pirates.
Seemingly out of nowhere, a group led by Boehly and fellow Guggenheim executive Mark Walter bought the team in 2012. The $2.15 billion price—then a record for a sports team—surely meant a lot. But Boehly crafted the deal in such a way that McCourt retained future rights to profit from the parking lots around Dodger Stadium. Today, of course, the Dodgers appear to have gone cheaply at $2 billion, with a valuation of $4.89 billion, according to Sportico’s latest ranking. After a 22-year championship drought, the Dodgers won the World Series in 2020, powered by a payroll second only to the Yankees. In the same period as the Dodgers acquisition, Boehly also started gathering up a slate of media assets. In 2020, Boehly and Penske Media, the publisher of Sportico, combined their publishing businesses into a joint venture named PMRC.
The focus on personal connections seemed to pay off in Boehly’s later acquisition of a large minority stake in the L.A. Lakers. At Guggenheim, Boehly tried to craft a deal to buy the sports and entertainment empire built by billionaire Philip Anschutz. That deal never happened—likely due to Anschutz’ price demands—but Boehly again kept the relationships going.
In the Sportico interview, he described striking up conversations with Lakers majority owner Jeanie Buss in 2014 and building trust over the years. “We didn’t show up with any agenda,” Boehly said. “We showed up with, ‘We’re friends, we’re the Dodgers, and we’re here to be helpful.’ And when the opportunity came to acquire that stake from Anschutz, Jeanie, she called us first.”
Occasionally this focus on personal relationships in deal-making has gone awry. In 2016 Boehly left Guggenheim after the firm paid a $20 million fine to the Securities & Exchange Commission, punishment for Boehly taking a $50 million personal loan from Michael Milken. Though respected for his post-Wall Street philanthropic work, Milken remains scorned by regulators for assisting Ivan Boesky’s massive insider trading schemes of the 1980s. Milken is banned from participating in securities transactions or advising on any deals as a result.
Still, the relationship endures: Boehly and his wife are on the “honorary board” of Milken’s prostate cancer foundation today.
–With assistance from Scott Soshnick