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49ers set to take over full ownership of Leeds United [report]

© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In news that will be massive to some, obscure to others, and mildly interesting to most, the San Francisco 49ers are set to take over full ownership of English football club, Leeds United.

To those not familiar with English football, or soccer, this is quite literally a massive deal.

According to The Athletic’s Phil Hay, Leeds’ current majority shareholder, Andrea Radrizzani, will sell his final 56 percent stake to 49ers Enterprises — run by CEO Jed York — imminently.

49ers Enterprises purchased a 15 percent stake in 2018, increasing that number to 44 percent in 2021.

The official conclusion of the deal, per Hay, is “likely to take a number of weeks while legalities are handled and the group seeks EFL (English Football League) approval of the deal.”

While it will take time for all the i’s to be dotted and the t’s crossed, the agreement has been confirmed by Leeds United.

It will be an enormous boon for Paraag Marathe, the president of 49ers Enterprises and their EVP of football operations. Hay reports that Marathe — Leeds’ vice-chairman since 2021 — will take over as chairman. Angus Kinnear will remain as Leeds’ chief executive.

It’s a deal which has reportedly been in the works over the last few months.

The timing, for anyone who follows football (the non-American variety), will not be surprising. The sport utilizes a relegation system, which in England, means the bottom three teams in the standings (18th, 19th and 20th places) get relegated to a lower division.

Leeds finished 19th in the Premier League, the top division of English football and by far the most profitable league in any country in the world. The Premier League generates comically large broadcasting revenues, topping more than $3.1 billion in that avenue alone in 2021-22.

When a team gets relegated, they receive what are called “parachute payments” from the Premier League, designed to ease their fall from grace. Because their is substantially less revenue in the second division, the Championship, teams can often face issues with retaining their best players and dealing with costly outlays based on their Premier League revenues.

The rub, from the 49ers’ perspective, is that Leeds is absolutely cheaper this week than it was three weeks ago, when the Premier League season concluded.

Per Hay, it’s a monumental drop in valuation:

The process of making appointments has been on hold during complex and protracted attempts by Radrizzani and 49ers Enterprises to agree a final price for the Italian’s 56 per cent shareholding.

The club’s value has dropped sharply as a result of relegation to the Championship, leading 49ers Enterprises to commit to an overall valuation of £170m. Had Leeds remained in the top flight, that figure would have been closer to £400m.

As it stands, the (Great) British pound is trading at a 1.26-1.00 ratio to the dollar. That’s a roughly $213.65 million value, as of Friday.

It’s an alignment that makes quite a lot of sense.

While things could change substantially in the offseason — when players are literally bought and sold in the “transfer window,” which involves fees paid to clubs to acquire players, rather than draft capital — Leeds core, as it stands, is American.

Brendan Aaronson, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams represent the midfield heart of Leeds United and of the United States men’s national team. Former Leeds manager Jesse Marsch, a fellow American, was fired mid-season as the team struggled. He was one of three Leeds managers to be fired over the course of the season.

That group of players made key contributions in the World Cup and are expected to play crucial roles in the 2026 World Cup, which will be hosted in the United States, Mexico and Canada. It’s the first such World Cup to be hosted over multiple countries, and one of the host sites, of course, is Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.

This is a bet on the 49ers’ part that they can draw American fans towards European soccer, and increase the interest in the sport in the long term. That bet could pay massive dividends for 49ers ownership heading into the 2026 World Cup, especially if Leeds can make it back to the Premier League.

The fact that Leeds dropped down a flight could also — assuming they don’t continue to fall — be a positive, assuming 49ers leadership knows what it’s doing.

Some new owners try to inject massive capital into their new teams without plans or respect for wage structures — the salaries of players, set up, ideally, in a way that keeps the club solvent in case of poor profits or another relegation.

Teams like Everton (run by struggling owner Farhad Moshiri) and Chelsea (acquired by American businessman Todd Boehly) had horrendous seasons and have been plagued by reckless, plan-devoid over-spending.

Hay reports that the new owners have a plan to pump money into the club:

The completion of a takeover by 49ers Enterprises would, according to those with knowledge of its intentions for Leeds, result in an increased close-season budget as part of the US group’s plan to inject funds into the club and avoid more than 12 months outside the Premier League

But, having Leeds in the Championship could provide new leadership a chance to get their ducks in a row; to build around a young core of marketable young players and attempt to make a push toward promotion the Premier League and stay there.

That, of course, is far easier said than done. The Championship is a 24-team, 46-game gauntlet. That’s eight more matches than in the Premier League, and with four extra teams, fighting for promotion is exceedingly difficult.

The top two teams in the regular season (decided by a points system in which three points is given for a win, one for a draw and none for a loss) are automatically promoted, while with third-through-sixth-place teams battle out in a glorious three-match playoff to decide the third team to rise up the ranks.

How this all plays out will be decided in due time. But the 49ers are now owners of a major English football club with significant, marketable American ties. With an World Cup coming to the States in three years, it could be a massive acquisition.