Just over 100 days into his tenure at Chelsea, we’ve heard far more from Todd Boehle than we’ve heard from Roman Abramovich in nearly two decades. From a fan’s point of view, it doesn’t really matter in the long run. As long as the club is seen as well run and successful, most of them can dispense with communication from the owner, which is why Abramovich was liked by most Chelsea supporters while Manchester United’s silent owners, the Glazers, are hated by most United fans.
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The problem with Boehly, who leads the investment consortium that acquired Chelsea for about $3 billion in the summer, is that the club is not doing well. To the normal worry of a new owner after 20 years of stability and success, you throw in the dismissal of manager Thomas Tuchel – especially after the massive investment in the summer – and a solid start to the campaign and of course, every word will be scrutinized.
So when Buhli sat down on Tuesday for a half-hour talk in New York at the SALT conference, a global forum for thought leadership and networking, the world was watching.
Inevitably, some will focus on Boehly’s blunders, mistakes, and general things that will rub veteran fans the wrong way. I’d be remiss not to date it though because in the grand scheme of things, it’s nowhere near as close to the main meals. For me it is simply that the Buhli Group does not offer anything new.
But let’s clear the pitfalls first, because that’s undoubtedly what you read in the headlines.
Buhle said every Premier League club gets “a few hundred million” (he didn’t specify pounds or dollars) every year, which isn’t entirely true. Last season, Manchester City, the highest earner, earned 164 million pounds ($190 million), while bottom club Norwich City earned 98.6 million pounds ($113.8 million).
When he clattered the list of players who came through the Chelsea youth system, he included him Kevin De Bruyne And the Mohamed Salah. In fact, they were signed at the age of 21 and 22 years old respectively from Genk and Basel. Although they weren’t particularly expensive and were young, they were international players (for Belgium and Egypt) and had previously played Champions League football.
He also managed to imitate the Barcelona academy’s name – somehow making “La Masia” sound like “La Messiah” – suggesting that after the summer of talking to Barcelona about Frenkie de JongAnd the Marcos Alonso And the Pierre-Emerick Aubameyanghe didn’t get to know how the Catalans pronounced it, and no one around him had the confidence to correct it.
Well, get your stinging laughs out of your system. It is true that most people immersed in sports – whether fans, coaches or executives – would not make such mistakes, but then it was only a few months in the field that, frankly, they didn’t really care. The essence does not change whether Salah comes through the academy in Cobham or Cairo, and it does not matter what Bohli calls Barcelona’s youth team.
As for you being over 100% dependent on what the clubs actually earn from streaming, let’s get it wrong, and besides, it’s probably more than a big picture. In addition, this does not affect his broader – and more interesting – point that the relegation of European football, which distinguishes it from American sports, prevents “tanks”, the practice of clubs that have nothing to play for in a senseless streak. Toys. (In case you were wondering, he didn’t go so far as to suggest that perhaps the promotion and relegation should be offered in baseball, where he is part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers.)
As I see it, the most relevant points are his sense of what innovation and best practices mean for the Premier League and Chelsea.
First, when you start a sentence by saying that you “hope the Premier League will take some lessons from American sports,” odds are nothing good will come of it. The implication, whether that’s what he meant to say or not, is that American sports are better at monetizing fan experiences, and European football has something to learn from it.
Given that from the start, the Premier League has been partly modeled on American sports – where do you think they got the idea, back in 1992, of giving players odd numbers and putting their names on the back of shirts? – and most importantly, that American owners have been a part of for the past 15 years (and they often have successful American sports franchises too), it’s not a great look. Not only does it mean that you want to borrow aspects of American sports (which is a sensitive topic to begin with), but it also indicates that these things didn’t happen to your fellow Statesmen or other owners who might have attended a baseball or soccer game across the pond.
The majority of the media focused on his first proposal, the Premier League All-Star game “North vs. South”. Without going into the details of scheduling, whether clubs can force players to play – there is no collective bargaining agreement in the Premier League – how they might work with teams in the Midlands or whether anyone would actually enjoy this, that kind of suggestion, or Variants of them, are not new. In 1891, an All-Star team of Premier League players faced off against their Scottish League teammates, a tradition that continued until the mid-1970s.
Klopp mocks Bohli Stadium in the All-Star game
More so, given how American sports fans have responded to the All-Star Games (the NFL version has seen viewership decline since 2011, the NBA has been the lowest since at least 2007, and in baseball — the Boehly wheelhouse — viewership has been at record low and a fifth of what it was in 1980) Perhaps the lesson to be learned from American sports is that fans don’t want it. why? Because they like to watch competitive games and not exhibitions.
His other suggestion – a touchdown playoff – is actually a good idea, if you get the formula right. (The biggest concern is fairness, when one team is far ahead of the other in terms of points.) But again, that’s not something they need to learn from American sports. Relegation playoffs have been around other European leagues (such as the German Bundesliga) for a while, in different divisions and in different formats.
His admiration for the “multi-club model” (such as Red Bull or City Football Group) as a way to share knowledge and develop academy stars, and, as he puts it, to “build the footprint”, was intriguing and clearly nothing new. From David Blitzer to Bob Platek, to the folks at RedBird and 777 Group, a host of other (mostly American) investors are doing just that. It’s basically a vision of a baseball farm system.
It’s the kind of idea that makes sense on paper, although the degree to which it helps the “mother club” is still unknown. The City Football Group has been around since 2013, but you can count on the one hand the number of young alumni partners who have been a good fit for Manchester City in the Premier League, not to mention the huge impact.
The impression is that creating such a setting, due to cultural differences and local biases in the game, is actually very difficult. Which, by the way, may explain why governing bodies like UEFA and FIFA haven’t cracked down on it or why other big clubs across Europe (other than City) haven’t followed up on it: in the end, it’s not clear if that’s the case. you an advantage.
Craig Burley cries at Chelsea owner Todd Boehle’s idea of the Premier League All-Star Game.
Buhli also spoke of treating the club’s youth as “academic products” rather than “academic players”. Again, some will find this to be a little inhuman and a little scary – we’re talking about monetizing teens here, not top pros – but give it the benefit of the doubt here. The most salient point is that anyone who has followed Chelsea over the past decade will know that the club has already done so and, in some cases, been criticized for it: Mark Joyehy to me Nathan AkFrom Patrick Bamford to me Fikayo Tomorieven Tammy Abraham And the Ola eyesChelsea have raised around £175m since 2015 in fees for departing players that have been developed in the Chelsea system.
When asked about the Europa League, he said it’s not something Chelsea are striving for because the Champions League already has “many of its components”. When pressed about whether this was a “hard no,” Buehle said, “I don’t give anything difficult. I like to keep my options open.” Some will criticize it for that, but I don’t have a problem with that. Bohli better be honest: he can’t predict the future, and there may come a time when fans’ feelings change.
There wasn’t a lot of insight or leadership in his speaking, but there was no need for that. The mere fact that he’s speaking matters, regardless of his stumbles and questionable thoughts, whether because she’s an idiot or just because she’s not new (although he might think she is).
Buhle seems to have already realized two of the most important things that club owners often overlook. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Glazer.) The first is that it is okay to remain silent if everything is rosy, but you have to send a message in times of trouble, and this message must be real. Bohli seemed real to me.
The other lies in what Buhli himself said: “In the end, you have to offer a product that people want and appreciate.” It sounds obvious and it might take a while to figure out the best way to do it, but it’s the minimum standard for being a good owner, and not everyone meets it.