It is the kind of buzz and excitement Chelsea fans will be hoping reverberates around Stamford Bridge this season.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are winning another game at home, their fourth in as many days against the Chicago Cubs. Everyone has a smile on their face and enjoying what seems certain to be a 10th successive year of reaching the play-offs since being bought out by Guggenheim Baseball Management in 2012.
They are some success story and one that has great relevance to Chelsea because two members of the consortium are Todd Boehly and Mark Walter, who now co-own the Premier League club as well.
The Boehly-Clearlake Capital deal for Chelsea was finalised less than two months ago so it is too early to know how good for the club they are going to be. There is not that much to go on. Boehly has been clocking up the air miles flying from meeting to meeting. Raheem Sterling is going to be their first signing — a significant one, given he is being purchased from Manchester City for £47.5 million.
But it is easy making an impression when you start a new adventure — what should Chelsea supporters expect for the long-term? Who better to ask than followers of the LA Dodgers, people who have experienced the highs and lows of the work Boehly and Walter have done, albeit there are eight other members in Guggenheim Baseball Management.
Christian Jones, a supporter of the LA Dodgers since 1986, has no doubts. “The last 10 years under these guys have been amazing,” he tells The Athletic. “Not only did they bring the right players, they generated the right atmosphere with the people they brought in. It has created such a core, a cohesive unit on the field.
“They have constantly invested. They picked up Freddie Freeman this year (signed a six-year, $162 million contract). The Dodgers lost to the Atlanta Braves last year when he was playing for the opposition. He is one of the best hitters in the game so they went and picked him up.
“They do their research and make sure fans get the full experience. I’m sure they will look to do the same at Chelsea’s stadium. Chelsea will have the best players on the pitch and everything around it too. I’d tell any Chelsea fan you should get ready for the next decade being the best ever.”
That is some statement, given the success under previous owner Roman Abramovich between 2003 and 2022, something Jones may not be completely aware of. However, you could not doubt the sincerity and belief in his voice.
It quickly becomes evident that he is not alone with the upbeat view. Bruce Harvey has n0t forgotten what the Dodgers were like before Guggenheim arrived.
“It has been much better under the Guggenheim group than it was under the previous ownership (Frank McCourt, who owns Ligue 1 team Marseille). It was horrible. People stopped coming to the game. They were sick and tired of him.
“My friends are big soccer fans and told me about Boehly and Walter being involved in Chelsea. These guys know how to bring the right people in, how to evaluate talent.
“If I was a fan of Chelsea I’d be thinking ‘we’re going to be OK, good things are coming’. They are as good an ownership group that the club could have hoped for. It’s not a bad thing, it’s a good thing.”
Walking around one of the concourses at Dodgers Stadium, which holds 56,000, one wonders if anyone will have something negative to say. The fact they are staging a comeback against the Cubs, who led 5-0 after the first innings, means everyone is upbeat.
The Cubs were getting another beating — they have lost 52 of their 86 matches and have little chance of competing for the World Series — just as Chelsea have arrived in the city for their pre-season tour. The Cubs are owned by the Ricketts family, the group who Chelsea supporters were most opposed to when they were in the bidding process.
A Cubs fan watching on defended the team’s record, insisting they are in a rebuild, but news of their poor results will further vindicate the stance Chelsea supporters took.
Not that every Dodgers fan is entirely happy with what’s going on. Tom Shrum has been going to games for decades and has noticed negatives following Guggenheim’s arrival.
“The quality of the hot dogs went down a lot,” he begins…”I always came here for that taste of the Dodgers dog. Now they’re made by some other company and I’m sure it’s about the money. Like the team shirt I’m wearing, it cost $225. That’s a simple jersey so don’t tell me they’re not making money. The parking is $30 a car! I remember when it used to be $2-3. Why does it need to be $30?
“Costs have gone up. A lot of guys with fixed incomes can’t do this. That is something Chelsea fans will have to bear in mind.”
The increasing expense is something Brett Banducci has noticed, but he believes it is worth it. “Ticket prices have gone up, car parking has gone up but I will pay it because we are getting repaid with results,” he says. “That’s all I care about. Let’s have a good team out here.
“Chelsea fans should know that their interest is in building a quality club. I had no idea when they arrived if they had any interest in baseball. I still don’t know if they do. But they just want to make sure that the Dodgers are the best team out there. To Chelsea fans, I’d say you’re a good team and you will continue to be under this leadership.”
The equivalent of Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel at the LA Dodgers is Dave Roberts. A sign of how Boehly and Walter will look to treat Tuchel is that Roberts has been manager for six years. To put that feat in perspective, Claudio Ranieri’s four-year reign between 2000 and 2004 is the longest at Chelsea since Dave Sexton left after a seven-year spell in 1973.
But Dodgers’ fan Jared Nunez believes the owners are too loyal to Roberts. “They have kept Dave Roberts in and they shouldn’t have done. He gets us to the play-offs but he chokes when we do. He makes bad decisions.”
Given Roberts took the Dodgers to the World Series just two years ago, it is surprising to hear such criticism. Nunez is not alone in expressing disappointment.
“It’s been sad,” Courtney Levan argues. “Yes we won the World Series in 2020 but it should have an asterisk by its name because it was a short, truncated season due to COVID. So it doesn’t really count. If it hadn’t been a shortened season, I would have been happier about the achievement.
“On another note, they used to have an all-you-can-eat section at the ballpark but they got rid of that. That was sad too!”
The most reassuring voice comes from Kyle McKinney. He is a Liverpool fan so knows all about how American owners can make a positive impact on an English club.
As he enjoys relaxing at one of the bars showing the game just outside the stands, he is confident good times are ahead for Chelsea.
“I have been a Dodgers fan for a while and to me, they are the hottest team in baseball,” he says. “There has definitely been a big improvement under Boehly, Walter and the rest. You just have to see the line-up, it’s full of top players. I would say the last five years has been even bigger than the first five. They have kept giving more money, there has been more to spend. It’s been the best period I’ve known.
“There is an example right there (points to Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw on the screen). He has been there since the beginning (joined 2008) and could have left but they kept him on instead.
“He could have taken a lot more money to go somewhere else (signed one-year $17m deal to stay in March). He chose the team over money. So it’s not just about buying players, they keep the best ones. And they stay because they feel they will keep winning. That mentality is there throughout. Chelsea fans should be excited, they should embrace it.”
Getting views from fans of a team provides a good perspective but what about someone who knows what Boehly and Walter are really like? Stan Kasten is president of the Dodgers and is one of the co-owners.
He is a respected figure in American sports from his lengthy spells in prominent positions with NBA side Atlanta Hawks, plus baseball teams Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals.
You would think the 70-year-old knows all there is to know about how to run a successful club. But working with Boehly and Walter over the past decade has added something new.
When asked about what his experiences of working with them have been like, he replies: “All I can speak to is what he (Boehly) has meant to us here. He is a super fan, cares so much about the team but also all of our missions: that’s the team, the stadium, the community relations. All of those things are vital to us.
“Todd has been extremely supportive in all those efforts as has Mark. (They are) passionate about winning and providing the best in class for everything we do. I tell people I think I’m an aggressive guy. Todd’s always there to make sure I’m even more aggressive than that, that’s just how they are. They have had a lot of success in their lives doing things that way.
“By aggressive, I mean in everything. They’re aggressive in making the team better, aggressive in making the stadium better, aggressive in our community relations outreach. Just all of the things because it’s passionate. As long as you’re passionate about things in a good direction, you can’t lose and that’s the way I feel about Todd and Mark.”
Not every American owner of a Premier League club has a good reputation. Liverpool have enjoyed great success under Fenway Sports Group, however the Glazer family are not as popular at Manchester United.
Kasten has no doubt about what lies in store for Chelsea though, nor is he concerned that Boehly’s and Walter’s involvement across the Atlantic will mean the Dodgers suffer.
“Look, I can only speak to US ownership which I’m intimately familiar with in all the major sports here,” he says. “As I have watched them, observed them and worked with almost all the ownerships for all the major sports for the last 40 years, this is the best ownership group, period.
“I don’t want to talk about what Todd’s plans for Chelsea are, that is out of my lane. I can just tell you what he has done here, which is look for the best in class across the board in all of our endeavours.
“Did I look for assurances that the Chelsea deal won’t affect what we are doing here? That was never even a question I have had to ask. I know how we have always run the Dodgers, with their full support, and that is not going to change. Let me assure you, they are very proud of the Dodgers, all we have accomplished. I’m sure that’s exactly how they are going to feel about Chelsea as well.”
An early sign of the link between the two clubs was former Chelsea midfielder Joe Cole throwing the ceremonial first pitch, a privilege given to the guest of honour at baseball games which signals the end of the pre-match festivities and the game getting under way.
Cole is well versed in American sports having played for Tampa Bay Rowdies between 2016 and 2018. He expects to see a fruitful partnership between Chelsea and the LA Dodgers from now on.
“There are multiple cross-sport ownerships and I’m sure there will be an exchange of intelligence and ideas,” he says. “I know it can be beneficial. I’ve seen it in action. My old team Tampa Bay Rowdies was owned by Tampa Bay Rays and I know the manager from my time there really leaned on how they scout, where the standards are, and what they demand from the players and good learning experiences in how they operate.
“I’ve seen it (Chelsea’s popularity in the USA grow). The first time we came over in 2004, the lads were walking in the streets unknown. Then you see it grow year by year, more people come to the games, more engagement, and playing out here, you experience the culture. It’s not quite up there with baseball and NFL but it’s getting closer.
“It’s an important part of the way the business works. You have to grow yourself as a global brand in the way the world is at the minute and to be connected to the LA Dodgers will really help the club.”
Cole can relate to what is going on at Chelsea right now in other ways. He was one of the first players signed shortly after Abramovich bought the club in 2003. Back then a different player was linked with a move to Stamford Bridge almost daily and history has started to repeat itself.
“There are similarities to 2003 but that was so unique that experience, not just for Chelsea but for global football, the amount of rapid change,” says Cole. “The ownership has come in and been very cautious, but business will get done. Everyone behind the scenes is working hard to get the team ready and in good condition. Chelsea will be ready to compete because that’s what they’ve done for the last 20 years, it’s exciting.”
There is a lot of work ahead for Boehly-Clearlake to make Chelsea a success but the LA Dodgers appear to provide plenty of reasons to remain optimistic.