The Big Money Owners Behind the New European Super League

Kurt Badenhausen
·7 min read

The global soccer landscape experienced a seismic shift Sunday when 12 of the world’s top clubs confirmed plans to establish a new competition, the Super League, which would start play for the 2023-24 season. The mid-week games would threaten European football’s biggest annual event, the Champions League.

Condemnation for the plan was swift and sweeping—from leagues, players, politicians, fan groups and commentators. European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, released a statement signed by England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga and Italy’s Serie A that blasted the plan.

“If this were to happen, we wish to reiterate that we—UEFA, the English FA, RFEF, FIGC, the Premier League, LaLiga, Lega Serie A, but also FIFA and all our member associations—will remain united in our efforts to stop this cynical project, a project that is founded on the self-interest of a few clubs at a time when society needs solidarity more than ever,” according to UEFA’s statement. “We will consider all measures available to us, at all levels, both judicial and sporting in order to prevent this [from] happening. Football is based on open competitions and sporting merit; it cannot be any other way.”

Critics see the proposed Super League as a naked money grab. Whereas the winner of the Champions League will receive a payout of roughly $130 million this year, the Super League’s founding clubs would divvy up an upfront payment of approximately $4.2 billion “to support their infrastructure investment plans and to offset the impact of the COVID pandemic.” Those clubs would also be guaranteed a spot each year in the new competition, securing a greater slice of the pie with less downside risk.

American team owners—who have infiltrated the sport over the past two decades, taking over the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool—are taking much of the heat. U.S. team sports are used to a “closed” system, wherein every team gets a seat at the table each year regardless of performance, and there is no such thing as relegation.

Here is a look at the 12 founding Super League teams and their respective owners. Net worth estimates are from Forbes.

AC Milan, Elliott Management

The U.S. hedge fund was founded in 1977 by Paul Singer, who is worth $4.3 billion. The fund, with $42 billion in assets under management as of December, took control of the Italian soccer club in 2018, when it injected $60 million into the team to stabilize its finances. The firm had helped Chinese businessman Li Yonghong buy the Serie A club the previous year from former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. AC Milan’s seven Champions League crowns rank second all-time behind Real Madrid. The last win was in 2007.

Arsenal, Stan Kroenke (net worth: $8.2 billion)

The real estate mogul is married to Walmart heir Ann Walton Kroenke. He took control of the Gunners in 2011 and has built a global sports empire with his ownership of Arsenal, the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams, the NBA’s Denver Nuggets and the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche. Arsenal has a rich history with a record 14 FA Cups but has been a disappointment on the pitch in recent years. Currently sitting in ninth place in the Premier League standings, Arsenal is almost certainly headed for a fifth straight season out of the Champions League.

Atlético Madrid, Miguel Ángel Gil Marin, Idan Ofer ($6.4 billion)

Gil Martin controls the team and is the son of Atletico’s longtime owner, Jesús Gil. Israeli billionaire Ofer bought a minority stake in the team in 2017 and raised his stake to nearly one-third the following year. Real Madrid eliminated Atlético from the Champions League four straight years between 2014 and 2017, including twice in the final (2014 and 2016). Atlético’s best showing over the past four years was a quarterfinal berth in 2020.

Barcelona, club members

Barca is a registered association and owned by its 180,000 members. Barcelona and fellow La Liga powerhouse, Real Madrid, annually have the highest revenue in soccer and are matched only by the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys among U.S. sports teams. But Barcelona is currently in total disarray. Last summer included a crushing 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League finals, followed by icon Lionel Messi making his desire to leave the team public. The entire board of directors, including club president Josep Maria Bartomeu, were forced to resign as a result in October. The latest blow: The club revealed in January its debt load has reached nearly $1.5 billion.

Chelsea, Roman Abramovich ($14.8 billion)

The Russian oligarch has spent a fortune turning Chelsea into a powerhouse since he bought the club in 2003. Gazprom, Russia’s state-controlled gas giant, paid $13 billion for Abramovich’s oil firm Sibneft in 2005. Abramovich has been unable to upgrade Chelsea’s home, Stamford Bridge, to match its Premier League top-six rivals. He had not been to Stamford Bridge in two years over visa issues caused by tension between the U.K. and Russia before he attended a match in October.

Inter Milan, Zhang Jindong ($7.3 billion)

Jindong is chairman and owner of electronics retailer Suning, which has been hampered by the coronavirus pandemic. Rumors of an Inter Milan sale have been swirling for months over Suning’s financial difficulties. Jindong took control of the team in 2016 amid a flood of Chinese money into European soccer, a fire hose that has been cut off.

Juventus, Agnelli family

The vast Agnelli clan is one of Italy’s richest families, building its fortune as the founders of auto giant Fiat. Andrea Agnelli, who is the president of Juventus, has been tagged as a leading villain in the new Super League. He is one of three vice chairmen of the competition, along with Americans John Henry and Joel Glazer. “Football, finance and governance are at a crossroads, and this has been evident and exacerbated by the pandemic,” Agnelli said last month. “It is our duty to intercept and act, or else the risk is one of imploding.”

Liverpool, John Henry ($2.8 billion)

Henry owns the team through his Fenway Sports Group, which also includes the Boston Red Sox, Fenway Park and controlling stakes in NASCAR’s Roush Fenway Racing and cable channel NESN. He built his first fortune through his trading firm J.W. Henry & Co. Redbird Capital Partners invested $750 million for 11% of FSG last month at a $7.35 billion valuation. The minority stake implied a control-stake valuation of up to $10 billion for the sports conglomerate.

Manchester City, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan

Sheikh Mansour is an Emirati politician and member of the Abu Dhabi royal family. His investment vehicle Abu Dhabi United Group controls 77% of Man City, and his spending has turned Manchester City from a second-tier club to a powerhouse on track for a fifth Premier League title in a decade. Private equity firm Silver Lake bought 10% of City Football Group in 2019 in a deal that valued CFG at $4.8 billion. CFG includes 11 teams on five continents, including NYC FC in Major League Soccer.

Manchester United, Glazer family

The Glazers have been reviled in England since family patriarch, Malcolm, who died in 2014, bought the team in a debt-fueled 2005 purchase. The club is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, but the Glazers control the voting shares. Manchester United has failed to qualify for the Champions League in four of the past seven seasons. The family also owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which captured the franchise’s second Super Bowl title in February.

Real Madrid, club members

Real Madrid operates in a similar structure to Barcelona. Its president, Florentino Perez, will serve as chairman of the Super League. “We will help football at every level and take it to its rightful place in the world,” Perez said in a statement. “Football is the only global sport in the world with more than four billion fans, and our responsibility as big clubs is to respond to their desires.” Perez was elected to a sixth term in charge of the 13-time Champions League winners last week.

Tottenham Hotspur, Joe Lewis ($4.9 billion)

Lewis owns Tavistock Group, which is the Bahamas-based investment vehicle he founded in 1975 and includes more than 200 assets, including ENIC Group, which houses Tottenham Hotspur. The family of club chairman Daniel Levy owns 29% of ENIC. The Spurs’ London home pitch, which opened in 2019, is the crown jewel of the Premier League.

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