How Chelsea owner Todd Boehly laid out his vision in New York speech

Boehly’s blueprint for football’s future: It’s not just All-Star games… Chelsea’s American owner wants four-team relegation play-off and sees ‘partner clubs’ as key but won’t give Super League a ‘hard no’

  • Chelsea owner Todd Boehly gave a talk to the SALT Conference in New York
  • American billionaire sketched out some of his vision for the club going forward
  • He suggested a ‘North v South All-Star’ match to raise funds for the pyramid
  • Boehly wants Chelsea to develop a network of affiliated clubs like Man City
  • He also promised to take the club’s global fanbase even closer to the players 

Todd Boehly offered us some tantalising clues as to his vision for the future of Chelsea in a talk at the SALT Conference in New York this week.

The billionaire American businessman and investor led the consortium that completed a £4.25billion takeover of the Premier League club at the end of May.

Since then, Chelsea have spent over £270million on new players in the summer transfer window and sacked manager Thomas Tuchel amid a shaky opening to the season. 

Chelsea owner Todd Boehly sat down at the SALT conference in New York and partially outlined his blueprint for taking the club forward on and off the pitch

Boehly and fellow co-owner Behdad Eghbali (left) welcome new manager Graham Potter

Boehly moved quickly to appoint Brighton manager Graham Potter on a five-year contract at the end of last week.

On Tuesday of this week, Boehly sat down to discuss his blueprint for taking the club forward. Here’s what we learned. 

A RELEGATION PLAY-OFF IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE

What he said: ‘The Premier League is the top of the pyramid and every year you get three clubs that get relegated and three clubs that get promoted. 

‘So there is a giant distinction in that you always have to have a little bit of an eye on what is going on at the bottom of the table. Those relegation games are some of the highest broadcast games.

‘Ultimately, I hope that the Premier League takes a little bit of a lesson from American sports and asks ‘why don’t we do a tournament?’ The bottom four teams.’

The idea: Boehly appears to be suggesting that instead of the current three-up, three-down system of relegation and promotion between the Premier League and the Championship, the bottom four top-flight sides should enter an end-of-season tournament to determine who survives.

Given Boehly has stakes in the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team and the LA Lakers basketball franchise, he will be well aware the concept of relegation is an alien one in US sports.

Chelsea are unlikely to ever be involved but Boehly wants to see a relegation play-off

But he seems to want to apply the post-season play-off format that is used in the NBA, MLB and NFL to determine the champions to the bottom end of the Premier League.

He didn’t elaborate on precisely how it would work and whether one of the teams down the bottom of the Premier League would end up playing a high-ranking Championship team, as happens in Germany and France.

While struggling sides would no doubt welcome a last chance to save themselves – especially those who finish well adrift at the bottom – it would be going against decades of tradition in the English game to bring it in.

And is it right that a club like Norwich, who finished 16 points shy of safety last season, get a final shot at survival having been so poor?  

There’s no doubting Boehly’s idea would create greater drama – just look at how good the EFL play-offs are – and boost broadcasting revenues though.

Clubs like Norwich City may welcome a final shot at survival if they finish bottom of the table

NORTH VERSUS SOUTH ALL-STAR GAME

What he said: ‘Why isn’t there an All-Star Game? People are talking about money for the pyramid. In LA this year in MLB, we made $200m from a Monday and a Tuesday. So you could do a north versus south all-star game for the PL and fund whatever the pyramid needs very easily.’

The idea: Taking a leaf out of the NBA, NFL and MLB is Boehly’s very American suggestion that the Premier League stage an annual All-Star Game, perhaps featuring a North versus South divide.

He posits that the money from ticket sales be used to fund the EFL and non-league clubs further down the English football food chain, pointing out the MLB edition raked in $200m [£173m] last year.

That money would certainly have a considerable trickle-down effect to clubs and leagues below the Premier League.

Would Liverpool and Man United stars want to turn out alongside each other for the All-Stars?

Many fans gave the idea short shrift, as did the Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, who replied sarcastically that Boehly ‘should invite the Harlem Globetrotters’.

But the German was probably thinking about the practicalities. Firstly, when would this fixture be squeezed in to an already full-to-bursting football calendar in England?

One possibility is that the All-Star Game could replace the Community Shield as the traditional curtain-raiser to the new campaign, which isn’t the worst idea.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp wasn’t too impressed by Chelsea owner Todd Boehly’s suggestion that the Premier League should stage a ‘North vs South All-Star Game’

More problematic, as Klopp alluded to, is persuading players from rival clubs such as Man United, Man City and Liverpool, or Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham, to effectively call a truce to play alongside each other.

It isn’t exactly the same as being called up to represent England or another country, where club loyalties are usually put to one side in the national interest.

Players are unlikely to feel as passionately about arbitrary teams like ‘North’ or ‘South’. Also, what about the ‘Midlands’?

NETWORK OF PARTNER CLUBS AROUND THE WORLD

What he said: ‘We have talked about having a multi-club model, I would love to continue to build out the footprint.

‘There are different countries where there are advantages to having a club. Red Bull do a really good job, they have got Leipzig and Salzburg, both of which are playing in the Champions League.

‘They have figured out how to make that work. You have Man City, who have a very big network of clubs.’

The idea: Not an original suggestion as Boehly mentioned but a very practical one.

When asked to elaborate, Boehly pointed out that Chelsea wished to identify and acquire talented players in the 18-20 age bracket from all corners of the globe.

The club already has a very good academy responsible for polishing players until they’re of a first-team standard and he name-checked the likes of Reece James and Mason Mount.

Manchester City take on Spanish club Girona – one of their partner clubs – in a friendly

New York City FC is one of a number of clubs owned under the City Football Group umbrella

Boehly also claimed that Kevin De Bruyne and Mohamed Salah, now superstars for Chelsea’s rivals City and Liverpool, came through the same academy, inviting much ridicule.

It’s practical because, as he explained, the landscape has changed post-Brexit, with stringent new regulations on signing overseas players which take into account experience in other leagues and international appearances.

Like City have done in partnering with Girona in Spain, Lommel in Belgium and New York City FC in the USA among others, Chelsea have realised that having a network of clubs is hugely beneficial.

It means young players can gain regular game time to develop while accruing the points they need to secure a visa to ultimately come to England and play for Chelsea.

Boehly highlighted the Portuguese and Belgian clubs and, as Sportsmail revealed, he held talks with super-agent Jorge Mendes over buying a Portuguese team over the summer.

This multi-club model is likely to become the norm in the future and Chelsea would be prudent in developing a network as they play catch-up to City.

The American met with super agent Jorge Mendes to discuss initial plans over following the lead of Red Bull and the City Football Group in having a network of clubs

EUROPEAN SUPER LEAGUE

What he said: ‘I think the Champions League has a big component of that already. You have the best clubs throughout Europe playing in the best competition.

‘We believe very much that the Champions League has a lot of that. There is a reason that if you win the Champions League you make over €100million [£86.5m].

‘You win the Masters [in golf] and you make a couple of million bucks. The passion that the fans have for the sport is so strong that is hard to envision it changing.

‘I never say hard nos, I like to keep options alive but it’s not something we’re talking about at all.’

Chelsea fans helped lead resistance to the European Super League last year 

The idea: Boehly was as emphatic in his opposition to any future incarnation of the European Super League as he could be without totally ruling out future support.

He rightly points out that the Champions League already offers much of what the ringleaders of last year’s much-maligned Super League proposal promised and the forthcoming tweaks to the format only raise the revenue on offer.

Chelsea fans were no different to any others in England in their vehement opposition to the proposals and Boehly would be very brave indeed to go down this avenue again.

MEDIA RIGHTS

What he said: ‘I think evolution will come and I think if you look at the Chelsea app, for example, it’s well behind the Dodgers At Bat app so I think there is going to be a lot of evolution.

‘The nice thing about the Premier League is that you own the worldwide rights. If we were to take the Dodgers and build revenue streams in Asia with them, we only get 1/30th of the revenue so there is very little incentive to grow into a global brand from a US sports point of view.

‘But these rules were written years ago when the idea of global distribution at your fingertips wasn’t available.

‘Because we have the intellectual property that is global and is ours, that is absolutely a key component.

Boehly is obviously keen to adapt the American approach to media rights to English football

‘And because we have a global fanbase. Developing that fanbase is our No 1 goal. To give them things they can’t get anywhere else.

‘We are the only place they can go to experience the insides of Chelsea FC. As we think about what we are going to do with our digital platform, it is absolutely a direct connection to our fans who care the most.’

It sounds as though Boehly believes Chelsea can offer more to fans through apps and other media

The idea: It appears that Boehly wants to bring some of the access-all-areas element to media coverage of United States sport to the Premier League.

Take the Major League Baseball At Bat app he mentions – for a yearly subscription of about $20, fans can access live matches, in-game highlights from their team’s games and the myriad of stats and averages popular in that sport.

An equivalent for the Premier League would be sensational but the broadcast market works rather differently.

When Sky Sports and BT Sport pay £5bn between them for domestic live rights, they’re hardly going to hand them over to clubs to package on their own apps, instead putting such content out on their own websites and social media.

Part of the appeal of breaking away and forming the Super League was so clubs had more autonomy over broadcast rights to their games, perhaps even showing them exclusively on club channels.

By the sounds of it, however, Boehly wants to ensure Chelsea’s international following have as much behind-the-scenes content through their mobile app – known as The 5th Stand – and other sources.

There may be greater scope to push the boundaries overseas but let’s not forget the Premier League rakes in more international broadcast revenue now than domestically.

Press conferences with new manager Graham Potter are streamed through the app 

Each country has its own TV deal and those networks might have something to say if Chelsea or other clubs start offering in-game highlights and even live coverage under their own banner.

There’s no doubt Chelsea have huge support around the world and there are always new markets to exploit. 

SHARING OF DATA

What he said: ‘I think there are a lot of walls to break down at Chelsea. Before, the first team and the academy didn’t really share data.

‘They didn’t share information about where top players were coming from. Our goal is to really bring a team together, with the academy, the first team and the clubs we want to acquire and develop.

‘All of that needs to be a well-oiled machine.’

The idea: This answer came in the context of an explanation as to why Tuchel was sacked, with Boehly saying the vision of the former manager and ownership wasn’t quite aligned.

He then said data on the first team and the academy players wasn’t shared within the club, which seems pretty strange.

Boehly revealed that data wasn’t shared between the Chelsea first team and the academy

That’s a small fix that could smooth the pathway between the academy and the first team.

Chelsea used to be pilloried for stockpiling young talent who were sent out interminably on loan with little prospect of cracking the senior side.

That has improved in recent seasons, however, with the likes of Reece James, Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Trevoh Chalobah and Conor Gallagher getting their chance.

Even though he sanctioned over £270m worth of spending over the summer, it’s a welcome commitment to the club’s academy from the new ownership.

It is also a nod to the fact all top clubs now rely on the power of data to inform their decisions.




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