US investors are ready for the final battle for Chelsea

Based on the price range the offers are driving, it could easily mark the biggest takeover of a European football club, beating Manchester United FC by more than £700m in 2005.

At least three groups of mainly American bidders have secured what is expected to be a final phase of the bidding war for Chelsea Football Club, according to people familiar with the situation.

While there may be more investors in the next round, those already present include a consortium led by the former CEO of Guggenheim Partners, Todd Boehly; another by the co-founder of Apollo Global Management Inc., Josh Harris; and a third by the Ricketts family, owners of the professional baseball league, chicago Cubs, who have teamed up with billionaire American hedge fund manager Ken Griffin.

Raine GroupThe New York-based commercial bank handling the sale of current Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has been weighing offers submitted before last Friday’s deadline. So far he has informed some of those who have not made the cut, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information was confidential.

Bidders have sought to seize a rare opportunity to buy one of the top clubs in the English Premier League, Europe’s richest division of football. Another investor chasing the club is UK property developer, nick candy. A group led by Centricus Asset Management offered more than 3,000 million pounds ($3.9 billion) for Chelsea, reported Bloomberg.

A deal in that price range would easily mark the largest takeover of a European football club, surpassing that of Manchester United FC by the American Glazer family for more than 700 million pounds in 2005.

Abramovich sanctioned

Russian billionaire Abramovich has owned Chelsea for nearly 20 years. He put the club up for sale after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which led to UK government to impose far-reaching sanctions on him for his links to the regime of President Vladimir Putin.

Since buying Chelsea in 2003, Abramovich has invested hundreds of millions of pounds to attract top football talent to Chelsea and turn the team into series winners. The club won the prestigious UEFA Champions League title last year and is currently ranked third in the Premier League.

The strong interest in the club from US investors reflects the recent rush of US money into the world’s most popular sport. Harris already owns a stake in Premier League club Crystal Palace FC. For his Chelsea bid, he has the backing of Martin Broughton, the former chairman of British Airways Plc, and Vivek Ranadive, co-owner of the National Basketball Association franchise Sacramento Kings.

In addition to Manchester United, Americans have invested in Premier League clubs such as Arsenal FC, Burnley FC and Liverpool FC.

Race for Chelsea

The Chelsea sale could still come down to more than just money. Any new owner will need to pass the Premier League’s suitability tests. UK governmentthat froze Abramovich’s assets and must grant a special license for the sale to take place, also could get involved if a bidder does not meet their expectations.

Other considerations include how much of the offer price will go to charity and how much can be spent on renovating the club’s Stamford Bridge stadium. Financial Times previously reported that the consortiums led by Boehly and Harris were leading the race for Chelsea based on a complicated set of criteria.