Explained: Multi-club models in the Premier League, Europe and beyond

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Why have only one football club when you can have several?

Owners of teams in the Premier League, English Football League (EFL), continental Europe and beyond have been asking this question for several years – and now there has been a sea change in strategy.

Todd Boehly, Chelsea’s new American co-owner who caused a stir last week when discussing the possibility of a profitable Premier League ‘All-Star’ game, has previously stressed the importance of creating a sports portfolio.

Boehly already had stakes in basketball’s Los Angeles Lakers and major league baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers, so he’s no stranger to owning multiple teams.

This approach, however, is not new. Should Chelsea’s new owners expand their portfolio, the west London side would become the 10th of the current 20 Premier League teams to be part of a multi-club model.


Arsenal, Brentford, Brighton, Crystal Palace, Leicester, Manchester City, Nottingham Forest, Southampton and West Ham already have links with 25 clubs across Europe and beyond between them.

Down a division in the Championship, Cardiff, Queens Park Rangers, Sheffield United, Sunderland, Swansea and Watford are also linked with other clubs, while League One’s Barnsley are part of the seven-team NewCity Capital Group stable. .

Also on the third tier, Ipswich ownership also operates Phoenix Rising in the United States Second Division, while Salford, playing in League Two, is co-owned by Peter Lim, Valencia’s majority shareholder in Spain’s La Liga .

EFL multi-club models

club Owner Year of first investment Other Clubs

Cardiff City

Vincent Tan

2010

FK Sarajevo, KV Kortrijk

Queens Park Rangers

Tony Fernandes

2011

Petaling Jaya Rangers

United Kingdom of Sheffield

United World Group (Prince Abdallah)

2013

Beerschot FC, Al Hilal (UAE), LB Chateauroux, Kerala United

Sunderland

Kyril Louis Dreyfus

2021

Marseilles

Swansea City

Jason Levien and Stephen Kaplan

2012

DC United

watford

Gino Pozzo

2012

Udinese

Barnsley

NewCity Capital (Dog Lee)

2017

FC Thun, KV Ostend, Nancy, Esbjerg fB, Den Bosch, Kaiserslautern

Town of Ipswich

Brett Johnson, Berke Bakay and Mark Detmer

2021

Phoenix rising

City of Salford

Peter Lim

2014

Valence

All over Europe, other leagues have already been notified.

A total of 20 clubs from Italy’s Serie A, France’s Ligue 1 and La Liga are part of multi-club models, with the former, with its own US investment, leading the way. US owners AC Milan, Bologna, Genoa and Fiorentina also have stakes in other clubs.

In Italy, the ability of owners to operate multiple clubs in all divisions, prohibited in other countries, may still pose obstacles.

Lazio owner Claudio Lotito was forced to sell Salernitana in January after the latter club reached Serie A, with the newly-promoted side otherwise risking being kicked out of the top flight. A similar prospect would face Napoli counterpart Aurelio De Laurentiis if Bari, playing in Serie B for 2022-23, repeat last season’s success at the third tier.


Aurelio De Laurentiis, owner of Napoli and Bari (Photo: Marco Cantile/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Even the German Bundesliga, famous for its resistance to outside investment and home to the 50+1 ownership model, has three clubs linked to others – Augsburg, Kaiserslautern and RB Leipzig.

In the five major European leagues, 32.7% of teams are part of multi-club models, linked to a total network of 91 other teams.

In the UK, the spark that ignited this business model was the 2016 vote to leave the European Union. And ownership of more clubs is set to grow rather than shrink.

Clubs see strategy as a tool that can help circumvent post-Brexit Board of Directors Approval (GBE) rules, while also being a useful way to develop academy players who would otherwise could not play first-team football.

Brexit has made it more difficult for players to obtain a work permit, and in the GBE system, leagues across Europe are ranked according to quality and status. La Liga, for example, is in band 1 and therefore worth more GBE qualifying points, while the Danish Superliga is in band 5 and is worth less points.

There’s a reason UK-based clubs seek teams in Belgium, Portugal, Turkey and the Netherlands – and it has to do with their position in the GBE system.

City Football Group (CFG), the umbrella organization belonging to the Abu Dhabi United Group of which Manchester City is the figurehead, has a stable of 11 clubs in countries including India, Australia, the United States and the Japan.

After buying Manchester City in 2008, Major League Soccer’s New York City FC became its second acquisition in 2013 when CFG bought an 80% stake. Melbourne City (100% ownership) and Yokohama F Marinos (20% ownership) followed the following year.


New York’s Thiago Andrade, who are the current MLS champions (Photo: Andrew Katsampes/ISI Photos/Getty Images).

Since 2019, CFG has purchased shares in Mumbai City (65%), Sichuan Jiuniu (29.7%), Lommel (99%), Troyes (100%) and most recently Palermo (80%).

CFG is by far the biggest – and the most successful in terms of cash if not necessarily revenue – when it comes to multi-club ownership and the model is also paying dividends closer to home.

In the summer transfer window which has just ended, CFG waited for Southampton to sanction the departure of Oriol Romeu to Girona, a club in which he holds a 47% stake, before Manchester City sent Samuel Edozie and Juan Larios to St Mary’s. Southampton have also loaned goalkeeper Mateusz Lis to CFG de Troyes.

Brentford owner Matthew Benham saw the benefits of having more than one club in his portfolio and secured a 75% majority stake in Danish side Midtjylland in 2014; but perhaps Tony Fernandes, co-owner of west London neighbors Queens Park Rangers, was ahead of the curve.

Fernandes founded Petaling Jaya Rangers in Selangor, Malaysia in 2011, the same year he bought QPR. The two clubs announced a partnership in 2016, which saw QPR set up an academy in Malaysia and provide guidance in training players and coaches.

League One’s Fleetwood Town did something similar last year. Their owner, Andy Pilley, started new clubs in the United Arab Emirates and South Africa in the hope of developing footballers there. The team based in the United Arab Emirates is called Fleetwood United Football Club, the one in South Africa is led by Western Cape Fleetwood Football Club.

“We are experts in building football clubs and developing players and that is something we are really excited to do in the UAE and South Africa,” Pilley said. “We are a forward-thinking club. It’s one thing for Manchester City to have a network of clubs, but who would’ve thought little old Fleetwood would go down the same path?

Southampton are the latest English side to enter the multi-club world, with new owners Sport Republic – their majority shareholders after a takeover last January – buying a 70 per cent stake in Turkish side Goztepe in August. Sport Republic, a group co-owned by former Brentford director of football operations and Benham employee Rasmus Ankersen, hopes several more acquisitions will follow.

Several of the Premier League’s American investors already had stakes in sports franchises back home before trying their hand at English football.

Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke has a portfolio that includes MLS team Colorado Rapids, NFL champions Los Angeles Rams, NBA Denver Nuggets and defending NHL ice hockey champions l ‘Colorado Avalanche.


Andrew Whitworth and Von Miller of the Los Angeles Rams with the Super Bowl trophy in February (Photo: Frederic J Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

The impressive stable of Kroenke is followed closely by that of Dave Blitzer, an American holding 18% of the capital of Palace. Blitzer can count the Philadelphia 76ers (NBA), New Jersey Devils (NHL), and Cleveland Guardians (MLB) as teams included in his portfolio.

As well as owning Manchester United, achieving a controversial leveraged takeover in 2005, the Glazer family is in charge of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Liverpool’s Fenway Sports Group, led by John W Henry, also has the Boston Red Sox (MLB) and Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL) under their club umbrella.

Bournemouth, which was promoted to the Premier League last season, is the latest club wanted by an American businessman. Bill Foley is in exclusive talks with Maxim Demin, the club’s Russian owner, over a proposed takeover. Foley already has experience in the sport as owner of the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights.

As the multi-club model continues to be replicated in football, this will become more difficult as there will be fewer teams left in the market.

But despite this rapid growth, the strategy shows no signs of slowing down.

Whether it is minority or majority ownership is almost irrelevant.

Having a stake in another team opens up avenues not available to single club owners.

(Top photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images)

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