Ministers and the Premier League will be presented with a preferred bid for Chelsea Football Club in three weeks’ time, paving the way for a change of ownership to take place by the end of next month.
Sky News has learnt that a letter sent to the four remaining contenders to buy the Blues over the weekend indicates that the government will be approached to issue a licence enabling the sale during the week of April 18.
The additional detail underlines the speed at which Raine Group, the merchant bank overseeing the sale process, is conducting one of the most hotly contested corporate auctions in sporting history.
Richard Masters, the Premier League chief executive, has publicly indicated that it will examine a preferred bidder under its owners and directors test as speedily as possible, citing a previous club takeover that was approved within ten days.
In recent weeks, Sky News has exclusively revealed a series of key details of the Chelsea sale process as Roman Abramovich relinquishes control of the club he has owned since 2003.
At the weekend, it emerged that the quartet of bidders had been handed a deadline of April 11 – the day before the second leg of Chelsea’s Champions League quarter-final against Real Madrid.
They have been told by Raine that they must commit at least £1bn to future investment in the club if they are to succeed in the battle to end Mr Abramovich’s tenure.
The additional funding must be made available for the Blues’ Stamford Bridge stadium, playing squad and other areas of development.
Raine’s insistence on the pool of capital for investment is likely to go some way to reassuring supporters that its new owner will continue to back it with the kind of significant financial resource they have become accustomed to under the Russian-born businessman.
All four of the remaining bidders have significant experience in sports stadium infrastructure, a key consideration given Chelsea’s long-standing dilemma about the expansion of Stamford Bridge, which has a capacity barely half that of Manchester United’s Old Trafford home.
Between them, the final bidders either control or own stakes in US teams including the Boston Celtics, the Chicago Cubs, the LA Dodgers, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Sacramento Kings.
Sir Martin Broughton, the former British Airways and Liverpool FC chairman, and Lord Coe, the former British Olympian turned sports administrator and businessman, are fronting a bid that has the financial firepower of Josh Harris and Dave Blitzer, two wealthy American financiers.
That consortium also includes Vivek Ranadive, an Indian-born entrepreneur, and a syndicate of other investors from around the world whose identities are expected to be confirmed in the coming days.
Another of the leading contenders is headed by Todd Boehly, the LA Dodgers part-owner, and includes Jonathan Goldstein, the London-based property developer, and Clearlake Capital, a US-based investment firm.
A third group comprises the Ricketts family, which owns the Chicago Cubs, and the Citadel hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin, with the US investment bank Lazard in talks to advise it.
The other remaining contender for Chelsea is a bid spearheaded by Stephen Pagliuca, an American private equity billionaire who owns the Boston Celtics and Atalanta in Italy’s Serie A.
Sources have said that Raine would assess the four bids against a set of criteria including the level of equity and debt funding; price; future investment commitments; speed and certainty of execution; and the claims each party has to being an appropriate steward of a prestigious sporting brand.
Among the bidders who were eliminated from the process last week were offers fronted by the London-based property developer and lifelong Chelsea fan Nick Candy; the former US ambassador to the UK, Woody Johnson; Centricus, an asset manager; and Saudi Media Group, whose bid is said to have been largely debt-financed.
The cluster of American sports billionaires circling Chelsea underlines the extent to which the English Premier League has become a magnet for financiers from across the Atlantic, with Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United all having been acquired by US-based businessmen.
Prior to being sanctioned, Mr Abramovich had said he intended to write off a £1.5bn loan to the club and hand the net proceeds from the sale to a new charity that he would set up to benefit the victims of the war in Ukraine.
Last week, the government agreed to further amend the licence allowing Chelsea to continue operating, with the club now able to resume selling tickets for away matches.
The proceeds are to be retained by the Premier League and earmarked for a Ukrainian war victims charity.
Chelsea can also now receive £30m from the club’s parent company to ease cashflow constraints caused by the current crisis.
A rapid sale is seen as essential if Chelsea is to avert the uncertainty that would trigger the break-up of one of the top flight’s most valuable playing squads.
The current Fifa Club World Cup-winners have been thrown into disarray by Russia’s war on Ukraine, with Mr Abramovich initially proposing to place the club in the care of its foundation and then formally putting it up for sale.
Mr Abramovich had initially slapped a £3bn price tag on the Stamford Bridge outfit, with the net proceeds being donated to a charitable foundation set up to benefit the victims of the war in Ukraine.