The clubs of the billionaires

Together, the owners of the Premier League clubs are richer than many countries

When the National Basketball Association owners and players failed to reach an agreement in 2011, the ensuing lockdown that saw the season shortened by 16 games per club was famously called a battle between the billionaires and the millionaires.

And, though it seems unlikely that a conflict between owners and players in the Premier League would result in matches not being played, any dispute between the two would also see millionaire players taking on billionaire owners.

The Premier League has become a real billionaire’s club, as 15 of the 20 clubs currently playing in it are owned by billionaires, who are said to have a combined net worth of $95.4 billion (R1.448 trillion ... or R1 448 000 000 000).

To put that into perspective, together, the owners of the Premier League clubs are richer than many of the countries in the world. If they combined their money, they could buy (if they were for sale) countries such as Kenya, Bulgaria or Croatia.

Although football clubs in England have been the playthings of the rich, it was Roman Abramovich who got the ball rolling in 2003 when he bought a 50% share in Chelsea.

Within a few weeks, the Russian had purchased the remaining shares and delisted the club from the London Stock Exchange.

At the time, Abramovich said: “I don’t want to throw my money away, but it’s really about having fun and that means success and trophies.”

And he has managed that. Since taking over, the club has won the Premier League and the FA Cup title five times, the League Cup three times and three European titles.

Abramovich’s entry into the Premier League not only started the rush of billionaires into the top flight, it also saw an influx of foreign owners, with 15 of the clubs currently being controlled by foreigners.

This change in ownership has not gone unnoticed by the fans, with some of them criticising the new owners for not having the clubs’ interests at heart.

In the most extreme case, fans even set up a rival club, with FC United of Manchester being established when Manchester United was sold to the Glazer family of the US.

The breakaway club currently campaigns in the seventh tier of English football.

One of the criticisms levelled against the owners is that they are seeing the clubs as mere investments and as vehicles to make money – a lot of money.

Surprisingly, what has helped owners – especially the owners of the so-called big six: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur – make more money are the financial fair play rules that have been introduced throughout Europe and England.

The financial fair play rules prevent newcomers from buying a club and investing huge amounts to secure success, thus keeping it mainly in the hands of the big six.

Football finance academic Rob Wilson said: “The financial fair play rules make football a better investment and one that can yield returns.”

It is obviously a strategy that has worked for the owners, many of whom have investments in other clubs and sporting codes.

Stan Kroenke, for instance, owns Arsenal and US Major League soccer team Colorado Rapids, for whom Shaun Bartlett played.

He also owns clubs in other sports, including American football (Los Angeles Rams), basketball (Denver Nuggets), ice hockey (Colorado Avalanche) and lacrosse (Colorado Mammoth).

He has even bought a club (Los Angeles Gladiators) in the newly formed e-sports league, Overwatch League.

The richest of the owners in the Premier League is Manchester City’s Sheikh Mansour, who is the deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, as well as a member of the royal family of Abu Dhabi.

The 48-year-old heads the City Football Group, which not only owns Manchester City, but also New York City, Melbourne City, Yokohama F Marinos, Club Atletico Torque, Girona and Sichuan Jiuniu.

They are said to be on the verge of buying Indian club Mumbai City.

Some fans question how owners can feel an allegiance towards a club if they own so many different ones.

There can, however, be no question about what foreign owners have brought to the Premier League: money and success.


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