BILLIONAIRE assesses the richest owners of football clubs in the English Premier League — in an arena where investment is a decidedly tricky business in terms of pleasing the English fans.
This weekend sees the start of the English Premier League, a football (or soccer, if you prefer) competition with an ever-more global reach. And we’re not just talking about viewers on television — the world UHNWI community has long eyed Premier League clubs as an attractive investment.
One does wonder why. English football supporters have a high degree of emotional involvement with their chosen club, usually referring to a particular team as ‘we’. Therefore, foreign owners such as Malaysian Vincent Tan, the owner of Cardiff City (no longer in the Premier League after being relegated in 2014), ran into all sorts of problems with supporters after changing his team’s shirts from their traditional blue to red — maybe a simple task in Malaysia; absolute heresy in the UK. An investment in English football is definitely not akin to investing in retail. Indeed, as can be seen below, many of the owners have controversial relationships with their respective clubs.
The rewards are high for the bigger clubs, although so is the investment if an owner is serious about breaking into the upper echelons of the Premier League. It appears that success requires an owner to have billionaire status at the very least. However, the Premier League is also rather good at rewarding mediocrity with guaranteed television money and the like; so much so that relegated teams need parachute payments to cope the financial shock of losing Premier League status.
A point to note from our list: non-British owners predominate in our top 10 (ordered by the wealth of the owner), with only two English owners present.
Roman Abramovich, perhaps the most successful of the foreign owners in the English game.
The big players
1. Manchester City — Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Wealth: £20 billion
A prominent member of the ruling family of the UAE, Sheikh Mansour has already funded a Premier League title success in the 2013–14 season. However, we can’t help but think that he can’t be keen on the dour weather in Manchester, often matched by the equally dour humour of City’s supporters.
2. Chelsea — Roman Abramovich
Wealth: £5.3 billion
Perhaps the most successful of the foreign owners in the English game, Russian oligarch Abramovich took Chelsea over in 2003 and has bankrolled significant on-field success since then. Sometimes seen as being trigger-happy with coaches and managers, he has recently been reconciled with José Mourinho, who promptly led Chelsea to yet another league title.
3. Tottenham — Joe Lewis (majority shareholder of holding company)
Wealth: £4.9 billion
Lewis, one of only a couple of British owners in this top 10, made his fortune in currency trading. Tottenham aren’t what you would call an easy club to be in charge of, with significant on-field under-achievement, a demanding group of supporters and a relative merry-go-round of managers.
4. Arsenal — Stan Kroenke (majority shareholder)
Wealth: £4 billion
Kroenke is a US businessman who has also invested heavily in US sports. Again, Arsenal is not a straightforward club to be in charge of with the perception in recent years that the team simply doesn’t win enough trophies to be considered a real force in the English game.
5. Newcastle United — Mike Ashley
Wealth: £3.5 billion
Ashley made his fortune selling sports goods and continues to be a very controversial and divisive figure in Newcastle. The team’s supporters have massively overblown expectations (which simply don’t tally with the club’s history on the field) but Ashley is often condemned by fans for not investing in the team and leaving it at risk of relegation.
6. Manchester United — Glazer family
Wealth: £3 billion
More controversy. The US Glazer family won a controlling stake in 2005 in what had been the most successful club in the Premier League’s first decade. United have not enjoyed the same on-field success since the Glazers took over. Even more controversial has been the amount of debt that the Glazers have loaded onto United.
7. Sunderland — Ellis Short
Wealth: £2.4 billion
Sunderland are perennial strugglers in the Premier League, despite an impressive stadium and a strong support base. Ellis Short, a London-based US businessman, who made his money in property investment, took over the club in 2008 with no noticeable on-field impact.
8. Southampton — Katharina Liebherr
Wealth: £1.9 billion
Swiss-German heiress Katharina Liebherr appeared to be on a collision course with Southampton supporters in the summer of 2014 with what looked like a major ‘fire sale’ of the team’s best players. However, manager Ronald Koeman quickly made this look like very good business as he rebuilt the team and finished seventh in the league.
9. Leicester City — Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha
Wealth: £1.4 billion
Thai billionaire Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha purchased unfashionable Leicester in 2010 and the club won promotion to the Premier League in 2014. Even though they survived their first season, one would not want to predict a long term in the Premiership.
10. Liverpool — John Henry
Wealth: £1 billion
Also the owner of US baseball team Boston Red Sox, US businessman Henry probably has the most difficult job of all on this list. Liverpool were fantastically successful in the 1970s and 1980s but had faded by the time the Premier League emerged in 1992. Money has not been lacking to invest in the team in recent years but this does look to be the ultimate money pit.
11. Stoke City — Coates family
Wealth: £925 million
12. Aston Villa — Randy Lerner
Wealth: £641 million
13. West Ham United — David Sullivan (majority shareholder)
Wealth: £400 million
14. Crystal Palace — Steve Parish
Wealth: £45 million
15. Everton — Bill Kenwright (main shareholder)
Wealth: £33 million
16. Swansea City — Morgan family (main shareholder)
Wealth: £32 million
17. Norwich City — Delia Smith/Michael Wynn Jones (majority shareholders)
Wealth: £23 million
No figures available
Bournemouth — Maxim Demin
West Bromwich Albion — Jeremy Peace (majority shareholder)
Watford — Giampaolo Pozzo