The San Francisco 49ers have been in the business of football – American football, that is – for decades.
But now, they’re set to deepen their ties in the other football – soccer, in other words.
The 49ers’ business side, 49ers Enterprises, have reached an agreement to complete a full purchase of Leeds United, an English soccer club. The purchase would also include Leeds United’s stadium, Elland Road.
The Athletic was first to report that the takeover was imminent, and the team gave Italian football journalist Fabrizio Romano a statement confirming the news.
“Both parties continue to work through the details, and further updates will be provided soon,” the team’s statement read.
Leeds was in the Premier League, the top league in England, for the past three seasons but were relegated to the second tier of English football, the English Football League (EFL) Championship for 2023-24.
The relegation seems to have significantly shifted the financial element of the sale, delaying the process and putting a haul on most club activity — namely, hiring a new manager and making changes to the roster. The Athletic reported the club’s valuation dropped from around $500 million (U.S. dollars) to closer to $210-215 million with the relegation.
49ers Enterprises initially purchased a piece in Leeds United in 2018 from Italian businessman Andrea Radrizzani. Over the past five years, the 49ers Enterprises’ stake in the team increased to owning 44% of the club.
Now, they’ll buy Radrizzani’s remaining 56% of the club to be the sole owners of Leeds United. (Radrizzani is purported to be selling Leeds off in order to buy Sampdoria, a top-level club in Italy). With the reported valuation, it likely means the 49ers are spending around $120 million to make this purchase.
For the 49ers, the purchase furthers their interests across the pond, as back in 2021, the 49ers were one of six NFL teams to be awarded international marketing rights in the United Kingdom. It also increases the likelihood that a 49ers home game could be moved overseas to the U.K., perhaps as soon as 2024.
San Francisco played eight preseason games overseas going back to the 1980s, including two in London (1988, 1992). Since the NFL debuted their International Series for regular season games, the 49ers have had one home game moved to London (2010) and played as the road team overseas three times (2013 in London, 2005 and 2022 in Mexico City).
Leeds will head back to the second-division Championship for the first time since winning that league in 2019-20. They finished ninth in the Premier League the next year, their first year in top-division football since 2003-04.
But last year, Leeds barely escaped relegation, winning on the final day of the season to stay up. They could not muster another stunning save this year, though, and finished 19th out of 20 clubs in the Premier League.
It is expected that the 49ers will bring a significant cash infusion to Leeds for the 2023-24 season in the hopes of earning promotion back to the Premier League. The top two clubs in the EFL Championship earn automatic promotion, with a third spot determined via a playoff between the third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-place teams.