At the start of the 2022/23 season, nine of the 20 English Premier League teams had either a majority owner or investor from the US. In late 2022, Bournemouth became the 10th club to get a new American owner, ensuring half of the English top-flight had some US financial backing.

The occurrence has become widespread in English and European football in recent years, with more American business owners funding clubs from the Premier League to the non-league.

Ultimately, the shift in US investment in English football represents a new era. Globalization increased foreign investment alongside the formation of the Premier League in 1992. Since then, business owners worldwide have funded title victories and silverware for UK clubs like Chelsea and Man City.

But, since the late 2010s and early 2020s, more US investment shows that billionaires across the Atlantic are eager to become more involved in European sports. The reasons for this shift range from business opportunities to an appreciation of the English football structure and its history.  Although the MLS has seen sustained growth in recent years it still does not offer the opportunities that the Premier League and elite European football in general does to billionaire owners.

Shift Towards US Investment

Some American owners have held long-term stakes in English football. For instance, Stan Kroenke has been involved with Arsenal since 2007, but Kroenke became the majority owner in 2018. Others only have part ownership of teams, such as Albert Smith (West Ham) and John Textor (Crystal Palace).

However, more US business groups are securing majority ownership of teams. The most high-profile was Todd Boehly, who purchased Chelsea in the summer of 2022, following Roman Abramovich’s sale of the West London club following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Boehly’s acquisition of Chelsea was symbolic of the changing hands of Premier League ownership in modern times.

Abramovich was the emblem of oligarch investment football since the 2000s and his presence showed the shift from the local businessman to international ownership. After Abramovich came the increasing international influence on clubs like Man City and Newcastle, which showed the growing power of the Arab states in professional football.

But Boehly’s purchase of Chelsea showed the power shift towards US money. Buying the West London team ensured three of the Premier League’s biggest English teams are now owned by US investors. Chelsea, Liverpool (Fenway Sports Group) and Man United (The Glazers) are now owned by US billionaires.

But the change in investment is not just for the elite clubs. Leyton Orient, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Wycombe, and Wrexham have all had financial backing from US businesses or individuals recently.

One of the most high-profile purchases in recent years has been Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney’s acquisition of non-league Wrexham FC.

The Hollywood duo’s investment in Wrexham has power charged the Welsh side this season and drawn eyes to the club through various media and online presence. Also, the emerging interest in teams like Wrexham highlights the business opportunity US owners see in English football.

Why English Football?

From a business view, US owners perceive British and European football as media giants that are not fulfilling their potential.

English football has billions of viewers worldwide. But the competition does not generate decent revenue through viewership, especially when compared to the content streams of US sports like the NFL.

However, the newest crop of US owners is intent on generating revenue by boosting viewership and media profile of clubs.

Wrexham is a strong example of this. In the 2022/23 FA Cup second round, Wrexham played Championship side Coventry and the fixture was broadcast on ESPN in the US. According to ESPN, viewing figures rose by 858% compared to the previous year. The steep increase is largely due to Reynolds and McElhenney’s influence and using their profile to boost interest in the non-league side.

While Reynolds and McElhenney are using their available resources to turn Wrexham into a point of interest to boost engagement and fanbase, other owners see buying a stake in an elite football club as a smart investment.

Boehly saw the marketing value of Chelsea as a global brand. This is how he was successful with his Major League Baseball franchise, the LA Dodgers. When Boehly bought the Dodgers in 2012, he saw huge revenue potential from the team via video content and the businessman secured the rights to the team’s streaming rights, which he eventually made a profit on and reinvested heavily in the team.

Shortly after purchasing the Blues, Bohley shared a similar goal for developing a global fanbase through Chelsea-owned content. via the club’s app.

Speaking at the SALT Conference in New York in September 2022 Bohley said: ‘And because we have a global fanbase. Developing that fanbase is our No 1 goal. To give them things they cannot get anywhere else.”

But the issue of streaming and generating revenue through viewership and the global audience is challenging in the Premier League, compared to MLB and other American sports. If the Premier League owns the streaming rights to top-level football in the UK, teams will struggle to reach their maximum audience. This is a barrier for US owners seeking a profit from their investment.

For some investors, buying a football team in the UK is easier than going for a franchise in the NFL, NBA, or MLB. Even joining an NFL team as an investor costs hundreds of millions of dollars and owners of the franchises are unwilling to let go of their majority.

In contrast, investors can gain control of a mid-table Premier League club for the fraction of the price and sales can be conducted quickly.

This also explains the interest in US investors in lower league clubs. To add to the closed door of American sports, no relegation or promotion exists. As a result, teams are stuck in their league regardless of performance, which limits revenue potential to an extent.

However, owners who secure a lower league football club, like Wrexham or Dagenham and Redbridge, can make big returns if they can invest enough to get a team promoted through the divisions.

The days of the local businessman owning UK football clubs are almost non-existent. With the financial climate and the context of poor financial regulation affecting British football clubs, like Southend and Oldham in recent seasons, it seems likely that more US investors will head to England to make cheap purchases of clubs for possible financial gain.