Football Clubs and Foreign Ownership

Even before Roman Abramovich became a household name in July 2003, Premier League clubs were attractive businesses. Constant speculation linked endless potential investors with one of the most popular leagues in the world. At the start of the 2016/17 season, 57% of clubs in the Premier League and Football League Championship were owned or controlled by foreign investors. By the 2018/19 season, only Burnley, Brighton, Huddersfield, Newcastle, Tottenham and West Ham bucked the trend, with newly promoted clubs Wolves, Cardiff and Fulham all foreign-owned.

In the period 2015–17 notable takeovers included:

• West Bromwich Albion, sold to a Chinese investment group led by entrepreneur Lai Guochuan;

• Wolverhampton Wanderers, bought by Chinese company Fosun;

• a majority stake in Swansea City, acquired by a consortium led by investors Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien;

• 49.9% of Everton, bought by Farhad Moshiri;

• 70% of Crystal Palace, bought by a group of US-based investors, including Josh Harris and David Blitzer;

• 80% of Southampton, sold to Gao Jisheng, founder and chairman of Lander Sports;

• Aston Villa, sold to Tony Xia, a Chinese businessman who subsequently sold on the club; and

• Leeds United, sold by controversial owner Massimo Cellino to Italian businessman Andrea Radrizzani.

Across Europe, many high-profile clubs have also been bought and sold, including Italy’s Inter and AC Milan (to Chinese investors), and France’s Marseille and Nice (to American and American/Chinese consortia respectively).

Indeed, according to the latest UEFA benchmarking report, ‘More than 70% of all foreign takeovers in the top 15 leagues since 2016 have involved Chinese investors. In this period Chinese owners have taken over clubs in the Premier League, Championship, Serie A, Ligue 1, La Liga and Eredivisie.’

At the beginning of the 2016/17 season, there were 16 foreign owners in the Premier League compared with 10 in 2010/11 and three in the 2004/05 season. In the 2016/17 Football League season, 11 of the 24 Championship clubs had foreign owners/majority shareholders. The global appeal of the league is plain to see.

To date, the highest profile and most significant takeover involved the £790m purchase of Manchester United by the Glazer family in 2005. It remains controversial because the owners funded the purchase in part through loans secured against the club. Reports suggest that £500m+ has been spent on financing that debt to date.

2018/19 Premier League majority owners

Arsenal Stan Kroenke (USA)
Bournemouth Maxim Demin (Russia)
Brighton Tony Bloom (England)
Burnley Mike Garlick (England)
Cardiff Vincent Tan (Malaysia)
Chelsea Roman Abramovich (Russia)
Crystal Palace Steve Parish (England), Joshua Harris and David S. Blitzer (USA)
Everton Farhad Moshiri (Iran)
Fulham Shahid Khan (USA)
Huddersfield Dean Hoyle (England)
Leicester Srivaddhanaprabha family (Thailand)
Liverpool John W. Henry and Tom Werner (USA)
Manchester City Sheikh Mansour (UAE)
Manchester United The Glazer family (USA)
Newcastle Mike Ashley (England)
Southampton Gao Jisheng (China)
Tottenham Joe Lewis (England)
Watford The Pozzo family (Italy)
West Ham David Gold and David Sullivan (England)
Wolverhampton Wanderers Fosun International (China)
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