By: Scott RossPublished: March 2, 2022

What to Do When a Bad Person Owns Your Favorite Team

With Vladimir Putin continuing his brutal and unprovoked murder spree in Ukraine, people around the globe are clamoring for ways to punish the Russian strongman and his friends. To that end, the British government and its people are finally confronting the unpleasant reality that one of Putin’s friends owns one of the most successful football clubs in the country. So what’s a Chelsea fan to do?

Roman Ambramovich, your classic Russian oligarch who made his billions in sketchy post-Soviet privatization schemes, bought Chelsea FC in 2003 and under his stewardship the club has won five Premiere League titles and five FA Cups, along with a smattering of other lesser titles. Over the weekend, in a pathetically naked attempt to shield the team from presumably forthcoming sanctions, he tried to hand over stewardship of the club to a charitable trust run by – wait for it – the club. Curiously, in his statement he made no mention of Ukraine or Russia. A day later, members of the board of the charity let it be known that they had agreed to no such arrangement and frankly weren’t sure it’d be legal. Now Abramovich is coming under pressure to sell the club.

British MP Chris Bryant spoke earlier this week of cracking down on “illicit finance and malign activity,” while namechecking Abramovich. On Wednesday, he turned the screws, saying “Roman Abramovich, well I think he’s terrified of being sanctioned, which is why he’s already going to sell his home tomorrow, and sell another flat as well. My anxiety is that we’re taking too long about these things.”

Meanwhile, Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss has announced that he’s been offered a chance to buy the club, but that price is exorbitant.

“Abramovich is trying to sell all his villas in England, he also wants to get rid of Chelsea quickly,” Wyss told the Swiss newspaper Blick. “I and three other people received an offer on Tuesday to buy Chelsea from Abramovich. I have to wait four to five days now. Abramovich is currently asking far too much. You know, Chelsea owes him £2bn. But Chelsea has no money. As of today, we don’t know the exact selling price.”

You read that right—in addition to owning the club, Abramovich has lent the club roughly two billion pounds. You buy the club, and you’re buying a ton of debt.

People have known all along about Abramovich’s connections to the Kremlin, but fans and the government went along with it because, well, Russia’s part of the global community and sometimes you just kinda have to hold your nose and get on with life. But things changed once Putin started killing innocent people in Ukraine. Abramovich’s presence has become for some unacceptable. Now the moral calculus has shifted. But if the goal is to get Abramovich out of Premiere League football, the best course of action is to do nothing—as in, don’t go to Chelsea games, don’t buy their swag, cancel your cable sports package and let the company know why. The club is currently worth an estimated $2.1 billion; if Chelsea FC fans were to simply turn their backs, that evaluation would start to plummet.

Abramovich could argue with a potential buyer that all the fans would come back as soon as he was no longer involved with the team, and that’s certainly true, but if in the meantime the revenue just stopped, Abramovich would start bleeding cash and the value of the team would dwindle.

What could be easier than simply walking away from a team? Chelsea is currently in third place in the Premiere League, 16 points behind first-place Manchester City, with Chelsea having 13 games left to play, Man City just 11. While Chelsea is enjoying a very good season, they have no realistic hope of catching Man City. How hard could it be to walk on a team with no real hopes of winning it all? Especially one that won it all as recently as 2017? We’re not talking about bailing on the Boston Red Sox on October 20, 2004.

The NBA went through this in 2014 with Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling mess, when Sterling was caught on tape spewing all sorts of racist garbage. At the time, the Clips had recently finished the season at 57-25, the third-best record in the league, and were ahead of the Golden State Warriors 2 games to 1 in the first round of the playoffs. By May 9, 2014, the league had essentially brokered the sale of the club to Microsoft billionaire Steve Ballmer. Rather than sit idly by as Sterling found the value of his team fall, the NBA assured him a massive payday.

As with Abramovich, people had known for years that Sterling was a piece of garbage. In 2003 and 2006, he was sued for housing discrimination and in each case had to pay multi-million dollar settlements. The idea that this dude was a racist could hardly have come as “news.”

It would be a legitimate hardship for most players to walk away and risk negatively impacting their future earnings potential, but for a fan? C’mon. As frustrating as it is to watch Major League Baseball cancel the first week of games, I hardly think there’s anyone out there wondering how they’re going to fill their time or spend their money in the absence of baseball.

Rather than let the government do its dirty and in the process set potentially dangerous precedents, the easiest, most punishing thing football fans can do is to keep their money in their pocket and spend a little more time with their family. Would that be so hard? The Premiere League season is over in less than three months, and you’ve got zero chance of winning it all, Chelsea fans. You got through COVID, you can get through this. And if you can't, then you don't really care about Abramovich and his ties to Putin.

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