Multi-club ownership model: The good, the bad and the ugly behind football’s newest structural trend


Like every sport out there, some things are in and others fade out.

Basketball had shorts below the knees in the 2000s, tennis was inundated with jorts in the 90s and don’t think football isn’t guilty of them either.

Just cast your mind to the sleeveless jerseys of Cameroon in 2004 and more recently in the early 2010s which saw the introduction of the snood as half-practical and half-fashion.

While these trends have certainly had their time and also fallen off the face of the earth, football has a new player in town, however, this one does not seem to be going away any time soon and if anything, is here to stay as standard practice.

The idea of multi-club ownership isn’t a new concept with the prime example being the takeover of Manchester City in 2008 by the formerly-named Abu Dhabi United Group, changing their name in 2013 to the City Football Group.

From starting with just one in Manchester, they now boast a portfolio of teams from as close by as Palermo (Italy) and Girona (Spain) to as far away as of course Melbourne City but also Yokohama F. Marinos (Japan) and even Montevideo City (Uruguay).

They are certainly not alone in the space either.

Recently I looked at RB Leipzig and how they have shaken up the tradition of club ownership in Germany and just like the CFG, Red Bull doesn’t have their eggs in only one basket.

Of course, they have their presence in Germany but started with Red Bull Salzburg in their native Austria in 2005 before branching out to owning clubs in the United States and later Brazil with their two bulls and the sun branding taking over the country’s respective national leagues.

Manchester City lifts the 2023 FA Cup Trophy. (Photo by Justin Setterfield – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

Whether you are for or against multi-club ownership, you can’t say that it is not a successful strategy.

I mean the clubs involved receive all the financial backing they could ever ask for, and they gain a network of players that they would never have got otherwise and it provides a rather admirable pathway for players to reach the heights of professional football that they desire.

I mean just think about it, hypothetically a player could be brought up through the system of Red Bull Bragantino in Brazil, and earn his chance in Europe through Red Bull Salzburg.

Then there’s the opportunity to prove their worth at the highest level at RB Leipzig and then end his career in style with New York Red Bulls for their final swansong.

Not a bad career right?

At the end of the day, the ownership gets all the free advertising they could ask for across three continental markets.

So far we’ve discussed the positives multi-club ownership can provide, but what happens when it doesn’t go so well?

For that we look towards two examples both out of the US, BlueCo led by Todd Boehly from Los Angeles and 777 Partners out of Miami.

After Boehly took over Chelsea from Roman Abramovich as a result of the 2022 Russia-Ukraine conflict, life at Stamford Bridge looked to be good for their fans with an injection of billions promised to be invested into various aspects of the club.

After the initial jubilee and strong optimism, it started to turn the other way and rather the opposite of anything Chelsea had experienced over the last 19 years of Abramovich’s backing.

Graham Potter, the manager he had signed, was sacked after just under seven months in as they eventually finished 12th in Boehly’s first campaign as owner and currently hold ninth on the table this season.

Hardly the Chelsea that I knew growing up.

While BlueCo hasn’t had the strongest start to life at both Chelsea and the other club they own, RC Strasbourg in France, it’s not that bad in the grand scheme of things.

Whereas over at 777 Partners, their problems fall under the umbrella of financial mismanagement and concerns over their true motives.

Chelsea celebrating winning the FIFA Club World Cup trophy. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)

They started with their first venture into football by taking up a minority stake in Sevilla where they now own 7.5% of the Spanish club.

Soon after that they completed their first takeover, securing 99.99% of the historical Italian club Genoa, which was followed up in the years to come with majority stakes in Vasco da Gama (Brazil), Hertha Berlin (Germany) and Melbourne Victory, as well as ownership takeovers of Standard Liége (Belgium) and Red Star (France).

To grow such an extensive portfolio in so little time is on the one hand impressive, it started to alert the fans of the teams in their ecosystem about their intentions with their new plethora of clubs and if some of their own are being turned into feeder clubs.

One of those clubs was Red Star, a third-division side based in Paris, whose club philosophy consists of left-wing ideologies and is a historical footballing institution in France.

They were so outraged by their new owner’s takeover of their club, that they forced the postponement of their Championnat National match to raise their issues and concerns about what they wanted out of Red Star.

This even led to a former presidential candidate and various other politicians publishing a letter in a French newspaper saying “for us, Red Star is a common good that cannot be sacrificed on the altar of profit.”

Most would say why wouldn’t you be happy about that injection of money coming in?

Well if anything those Red Star fans, as well as the Standard Liége fans who expressed their concerns, had a right to worry about their club’s future.

That’s because 777 Partners have a worrying trend of alleged unpaid debts and financial experts questioning their capital and other financial practices amongst other things.

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So while the multi-club ownership model both has its own set of positives and negatives like anything, the real concern comes down to football’s growing trend of big corporations taking up slices of the world game at the expense of smaller teams without said financial backing.

This is of concern to fans as football seems to be not listening to what it holds dear, the supporters, more than ever before and the idea of profit empires within that landscape is not the thing they want to hear for their cause.

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