The San Francisco 49ers are set to buy out one of England’s most storied soccer teams, Leeds United—in a deal worth more than $400 million.
Leeds United’s fanbase is intensely loyal, the team was recently promoted back to the top flight of English soccer in 2020 after nearly 20 years in lower leagues.
The club’s ties with American sports are already strong. Leed United’s squad boasts two American soccer stars on the Men’s National Team including Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson. And the club’s head coach, Jesse Marsch, is American, too.
Leeds is a northern English city, located in the county of West Yorkshire, about an hour’s drive from Manchester, or almost 200 miles from London.
The club was a European powerhouse for decades through the ’90s but fell on hard times at the turn of the century.
In American terms, they were a major league team that had slipped into the minors and have since returned.
In 2018, the San Francisco 49ers’ investment arm—49ers Enterprises—purchased a 10% stake in the team, promising to provide Leeds’ ownership with their NFL expertise, business advice—such as how to develop a new stadium—and cash to invest in better players.
And so far, it’s been a good bet. Shortly after their investment, Leeds United won promotion back into the English Premier League (EPL)—the top tier of English soccer.
The EPL is the top soccer competition in the world in terms of revenue, according to Statista, a research firm that analyzes market data.
The promotion to the EPL saw the value of Leeds balloon from $45 million to over $400 million overnight.
Since then, the 49ers have been keen to grow their influence in the club they helped revive. Last year, The Athletic reported the Niners’ stake has since grown to 44% and includes an option for a total takeover by Jan. 2024.
The Times reports that the takeover is now well underway. The newspaper says U.S. banking sources familiar with the negotiations have confirmed that 49ers Enterprises have “put in place” the necessary finances to complete the deal, likely at the end of the Premier League season, which ends in May 2023.
Once the deal is complete, the 49ers group would join a high-profile contingent of American owners who already own some of the biggest teams in English soccer.
Los Angeles Rams’ owner and billionaire Stan Kroenke bought Arsenal Football Club in 2011. Before him, the Glazer family, which also owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, took over Manchester United.
Liverpool is owned by the same firm that owns the Boston Red Sox. And after the Russia invasion of Ukraine ousted Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich from owning Chelsea, American billionaire Todd Boehly swooped in to buy the club.
The 49ers on the other hand, are not owned by a billionaire. Their entrance into the English game has been more shrewd and intentional.
Allie Dicken, the 49ers director of brand and influencer marketing, told the Yorkshire Post in October that their goal with the partnership is to “engage with existing sports fans in England and entice them through our relationship to get involved in 49ers football.”
But a total takeover means signing up for more than just hawking more 49ers jerseys overseas.
Leeds United is the city’s one and only pro-club. And if the Niners don’t succeed in running a successful soccer team first, they will find out, like the Kroenkes and Glazers, that English fans don’t mind biting the hands that feed.
For now, the takeover isn’t expected to be hostile. Sources at both Leeds and the Niners have told The Standard that members of 49ers Enterprises have been regularly traveling to Leeds since their initial investment, and that the working relationship is one of “supporting [current majority owner] Andrea Radrizzani” and his front office.
The Standard contacted 49ers Enterprises for official comment about the reported takeover.
Leeds United are currently 12th out of 20 in Premier League standings. At the end of every season, the bottom three performing teams are relegated to the lower division, forfeiting all of the lucrative media rights that come with being in the top-flight.
Leeds flirted with relegation just last season but narrowly survived in the final week.
Kevin V. Nguyen can be reached at [email protected]