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From Mike Ashley to Roman Abramovich: The Premier League's richest owners

16 min read

01 July 2015

Football has become a ripe hunting ground for businesspeople looking to utilise the extensive potential of the world's most popular sport. We've seen numerous clubs get snapped up in the Premier League during recent years, but which currently have the richest owners?

Most are familiar with Chelsea’s owner, Roman Abramovich, who has been a regular sight at Stamford Bridge, overseeing the club’s development and even winning the coveted Champions League. There are though, other less publicised figures who also own Premier League clubs and have built up business success comparable to – or more impressive – than that of Abramovich’s. Here are some of the richest owners in the English top flight.

(9) John Henry – Net worth of £1bn

The American investor is the principal owner of The Boston Globe and Boston Red Sox as well as Liverpool FC, with a total worth of £1bn. He established John W. Henry & Company in 1981 and began taking clients the following year. From 2012, the financial trading firm informed clients it would stop managing their assets from the end of that year.

In 2001 Fenway Sports Group was founded as New England Sports Ventures, when Henry teamed up with Tom Werner, Les Otten, The New York Times Company and other investors to successfully bid for the Red Sox. In 2010, the Fenway Sports Group took over Liverpool too.

Henry said he was interested in buying Liverpool as he saw parallels between the UK city and Boston, in elements such as size, and in terms of significant sporting rivalries – Liverpool’s long-established clash with Manchester United, and the Red Sox’s with the Yankees. He bought the club as it teetered towards bankruptcy under previous owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks. Henry has yet to return the club to past former glories, with current manager Brendan Rodgers seeming in an increasingly tenuous position, as the Champions League places become a more hotly-contested battle than ever before.

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(8) Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha – Net worth of £1.8bn

Dubbed the “duty-free King” by Forbes, Srivaddhanaprabha is the founder and CEO of King Power Duty Free – an operator of duty free shops. He currently sits in the top ten of Thailand’s richest people with an estimated £1.8bn fortune. After a three-year shirt sponsorship deal, Srivaddhanaprabha bought Leicester City in 2010 and has been chairman since 2011.

He began establishing respect among fans after overseeing the club’s promotion to the Premier League in 2014, while bucking the trend of playing manager roulette by sticking with manager Nigel Pearson after a tricky period.

Upsetting club structure and heritage can be a quick route to fan anger – Hull’s Assem Allam has butted heads over changing the name to Hull City Tigers, with further plans to drop the “City” entirely causing an uproar, while Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan made the controversial decision to change the club colour from blue to red, before reversing it after fan pressure. 

Srivaddhanaprabha made sure his initial time at Leicester City didn’t involve extensive meddling in team matters and plugged in £120m of investment. His patience with Pearson recently ran out however, and there has been a mixed response to the sacking after Leicester’s manager turned around the club’s lacklustre season to keep it in the top flight. 

Srivaddhanaprabha also takes a keen interest in polo, owning the VR Polo Club in Bangkok and has also been the president of London’s Ham Polo Club (from 2008 to 2012).

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(7) The Glazers – Net worth of £2.86bn 

A controversial takeover from 2003 to 2005, the Glazers picked up Manchester United, establishing huge levels of debt – something that didn’t set well with many fans after the club had been debt-free for so many years.

The Florida-based owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ploughed on with their £790m takeover of United despite a rising share price that forced them to rely on hedge funds to complete the deal. It even saw some fans form a breakaway team FC United of Manchester in protest.

The late Malcolm Glazer was the president of First Allied Corporation – a holding company for his assorted business interests. He inherited his father’s wholesale jewellery and watch repair business, before he expanded into real estate investing in single-family homes, duplexes and commercial buildings. Glazer went on to buy the National Bank of Savannah, nursing homes and TV stations.

While United picked up 15 trophies under the Glazers, there has been further uncertainty after the £80m sale of Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009 and the retirement of Alex Ferguson in 2013. The debt has been reduced by half and interest payments are a minimal distraction for a club of United’s financial clout – Manchester United recently took over from Bayern Munich as the world’s most valuable football brand – though now big money is now being invested in the squad following the lack of spending from 2009 to 2013.

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(6) Katharina Liebherr – Net worth of £3bn 

Southampton fans were concerned following the death of Markus Liebherr. He had bought the club in July 2009, taking the club out of administration, but suffered a fatal heart attack the following year.

Liebherr belonged to one of Europe’s top family business dynasties as son of Hans Liebherr, who started a leading manufacturer of construction machinery. Markus was was given equal shares in the holding company in the 1980s when the business moved its management headquarters to Switzerland. He ran his own group of companies from 1994 up until his death and Liebherr’s own holding company DMWSL 613 bought Southampton.

His daughter – with a net worth of about £3bn – has quietly overseen a period of huge change at the club. A plethora of summer sales followed, as both players and manager departed – leaving fans concerned as to where Southampton would progress after an impressive season.

Katharina has maintained her father’s commitment to the club, overseeing canny purchases, appointment of Ronald Koeman as manager, while still focusing on the importance of youth development. Southampton finished in seventh place for the 2014/15 season and fans have so far been impressed by their new owner – often singing renditions of “Walking in a Liebherr Wonderland”.

Read on to find out who makes our top five.

(5) Mike Ashley – Net worth of £3.4bn

Newcastle narrowly avoided relegation for the 2014/15 season, and owner Mike Ashley has cut ever the embittered figure amid fan dissatisfaction. They might find kindred spirits among Sports Direct’s shareholders, who have had numerous back-and-forths with the firm’s founder. A notable recent example being the lack of CFO up until an interim appointment in June.

Ashley bought Newcastle for around £134m in 2007, after establishing his fortune in the sporting goods market as a retail entrepreneur. His current net worth stands at around £3.4bn and he also owns an 8.92 per cent stake in Scottish club Rangers FC. Despite his financial success, his toughest battle so far looks to be convincing Toon fans he’s the man to take the club forward. 

Some 30 per cent of the club’s season tickets remained unsold at the last count – suggesting that while it had the third largest attendance in the Premier League last season, increasing anger towards Ashley and the team’s lacklustre showings in the league could have a detrimental impact for the 2015/2016 season.

Nevertheless, Ashley was unequivocal in his commitment, saying on the last day of the season that “I am not going anywhere until we win something”. It marked a big turnaround for Ashley, who usually shuns interviews, and had taken to speaking to Sky Sports for a TV interview. He has promised significant investment to address matters.

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(4) Joe Lewis – Net worth of £3.5bn

The behind-the-scenes top dog at Spurs has a total worth of £3.5bn. While Tottenham’s chairman Daniel Levy is well-known as one of the toughest operators in the league when it comes to transfer dealings, Lewis is a shrewd businessman too.

He left school at 15 to help run his father’s catering business, then known as Tavistock Banqueting. After taking it over, he soon expanded the offerings by selling luxury goods to American tourists – before selling the business in 1979. 

He is the main investor in Tavistock Group, which owns more than 200 companies in 15 countries, with the investment portfolio including restaurants such as Mitchells & Butlers, resorts like Lake Nona Golf & Country Club, as well as Tottenham – after investment vehicle ENIC bought it from Alan Sugar in 2010. The group formerly held stakes in Rangers and Slavia Prague.

Lewis also has an interest in art, with his collection estimated at $1bn. He holds works by Matisse, Picasso and Lucian Freud.

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(3) Stan Kroenke – Net worth of £3.77bn

The majority shareholder at Arsenal is the owner of Kroenke Sports Enterprises. He established his wealth after founding the Kroenke Group in 1983 – a real estate development firm that built numerous shopping centres and apartment buildings. He became richer still when he and his wife inherited a stake in Wal-Mart, following the death of her father and co-founder of Wal-Mart, Bud Walton – which is now worth more than $6bn.

As the head of Kroenke Sports Enterprises, he bought a 40 per cent stake in the NFL’s St Louis Rams, as well as picking up NBA side Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche in the NHL and MLS team Colorado Rapids among others. 

He bought two more shares in the London club earlier in 2015 and has reportedly backed manager Arsene Wenger with funds to try and mount a title challenge for next season – it has been ten years since Arsenal have won the league.

In 2014, Kroenke irritated Arsenal fans after taking a payment of £3m from the club – he had never taken dividends from his American sports franchises before then. It coincidentally lined up with the amount the club raised from a three per cent rise on season-ticket prices for that season. A BBC Price of Football survey revealed Arsenal had the most expensive match tickets in the league.
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(2) Roman Abramovich – Net worth of £5.8bn

The Russian oligarch is well-known for having built up his wealth through the oil and gas industries, before he took over Chelsea in 2003. He has injected over £1bn into infrastructure as well as players, helping to up the West London side’s presence on both the domestic and European stages.

He started his business during army service and sold imported rubber ducks from his apartment in Moscow. He attended the Gubkin Institute of Oil and Gas in Moscow, before trading commodities for Runicom. After perestroika opened up privitsation opportunities in the Soviet Union, he set up a company making dolls to seize upon the chance to legitimise his old business. His wealth began to build from oil conglomerates to pig farms and he set up and liquidated over 20 companies during the early 1990s.

In 1995, Abramovich and Boris Berezovsky acquired the controlling interest in oil company Sibneft. Each paid $100m for half of the company and rapidly turned it into billions. Abramovich later admitted in court he had paid huge bribes to government officials and obtained protection from gangsters to acquire these.

His business acumen has nudged his net worth up to £5.8bn, while Abramovich’s role at Chelsea has also gone down well with supporters, after his programme of commercial development paid off in spades.
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(1) Sheikh Mansour – Net worth of £20bn

Abramovich had the title of Premier League’s richest owner all but sewn up, until Manchester City’s new owner shook up the division. Sheikh Mansour has a number of business ventures including Virgin Galactic and Sky News Arabia, but the most lucrative is his position as head of the International Petroleum Investment Company. It owns 71 per cent of Aabar Investments and is used as an investment vehicle.

Since the deputy prime minister of the UAE took over City in 2008 he has pumped an estimated £1bn into the club, turning the side from a mediocre mid-table regular to top of the table challengers – though the next challenge will be extending that success to Europe, as it has struggled so far with replicating league success in the Champions League.

Mansour’s company also owns MLS team New York City FC, A League’s Melbourne City and Al Jazira sports company.

Elsewhere, he is an accomplished camel rider and has won numerous endurance racing tournaments held in the Middle East.

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