From Prokhorov to Kerimov: five stories about financial expansion of Russian oligarchs in elite sport

From Prokhorov to Kerimov: five stories about financial expansion of Russian oligarchs in elite sport

These days it became known that owner of Brooklyn Nets NBA basketball team Mikhail Prokhorov has listed 49% shares of this club that he bought for $223 million in 2010. Dollar Russian billionaire started to enter the sports world purchasing famous football and basketball brands a long time ago. However, speaking of sport in this invasion, the majority of results are far from plans. Realnoe Vremya's sports staff remembers the top 5 high-profile episodes of financial expansion of the richest people of Russia in sport and finds out what it led to in each case.

Mikhail Prokhorov and NBA: sport is nothing but business — everything

The Russian billionaire can make good money on the sale of 49% of shares of the Nets. It should be reminded Mr Prokhorov paid ''just'' $223 million for Brooklyn seven years ago. According to authoritative Bloomberg, nowadays one half of the basketball club will already cost about 400 million. At the same time, the billionaire will remain the owner of the team de jure and de facto by finding a minority partner.

''My goal is to find a local shareholder who will purchase the minority stock of shares. It will help to strengthen the presence of the team in New York and improve business and social relations. I remain a supporter of Brooklyn and will the majority shareholder of the club,'' TASS cites Prokhorov.

Surprise was the first thought that came to my mind: how Mikhail Prokhorov upsold the club! However, this illusion disappeared. The thing is that the Nets basketball players did not achieve success in sport. The club reached the first play-off round only once for 7 years of the ''debut'' of business Russia in NBA. In this season's regular championship, it was at the bottom of Eastern Conference. Why has the value of the team grown? Merits of the very Nets can't be found here. The economic weight of very NBA has risen where Prokhorov's toy is part of it. He admitted his mistakes only in the second year of his work in basketball.

''Lesson 1: Some Things Money Can't Buy.

In 2012, the Nets relocated from New Jersey to a sparkling new arena in the heart of Brooklyn, and we wanted to make that move as splashy and fun as possible. So we went with the idea that no money was to be spared. Get high-value star players, whatever it takes. Bet on the quick win and throw everything we've got at it. This got us to the playoffs three years consecutively, but not far enough. And, as the person who signed the checks, lemme tell you, it cost a boatload. We had been told that you can't buy a championship. Truer words were never spoken. It's okay to admit mistakes, as long as you never admit defeat! At the Brooklyn Nets, we are now poised to refocus our efforts on disciplined analysis and planning. Our fans in Brooklyn and beyond deserve a team worthy of their time and devotion, and we're going to give them one. Lessons learned,'' Prokhorov wrote in an open letter on Yahoo.

The Nets basketball players did not achieve success in sport. Photo:

Meanwhile, the Russian billionaire became the first European owner of a team in the history of NBA. We have to admit the first step was predictably the hardest. From a sports perspective, the Nets is at the bottom of the heap. And now overseas basketball experts are arguing whether Mr Prokhorov will be able to both make money and find a good partner to improve the situation – first of all, on the court, not on the very Russian's bank accounts.

Roman Abramovich: bundle of trophies of the new giant of world football and ''to be accepted'' in the capital of Great Britain

And it is a story about an ideal correlation of financial costs and sports results. The governor of Chukotka purchased no less than London Chelsea from Ken Bates for £140 million in 2003. During these years, The Aristocrats covered a road from a strong European club to one of the admitted giants of world football.

Abramovich accepted the club that was suffering from a financial collapse and was in debts up to their neck. As he had promised, first of all, the Russian billionaire covered 80-million debt of Chelsea. Nevertheless, everybody – the club's fans, football experts and business elite of London – was hostile to the deal.

''A sale has been arranged to an individual we know nothing about. I want to know if this individual is a fit and proper person to be taking over a club like Chelsea and until that question is answered, I'm afraid the jury is out,'' former Sports Minister Ken Banks said.

To start with, Abramovich spent €200 million to purchase players having bought Makelele, Crespo, Verón and Duff. The result was not immediate. But the Russian did not change the policy but just ''worsened'' it having invited Jose Mourinho as coach. Besides an eye-watering contract for 4 years, Abramovich spent another €160 million when he presented Didier Drogba, Petr Čech, Arjen Robben, Ricardo Carvalho and Paolo Ferreira to ''The Special One'' on a silver platter. Michael Essien, Florent Malouda, Michael Ballack, Andrey Shevchenko and many others appeared then. According to Forbes, during the first 10 years of his ownership of the London club, Abramovich spent about $1,5 billion on it.

The bundle of Chelsea got a bulk of trophies. Photo:

It should be noted the costs returned in spades. The bundle of Chelsea got a great deal of trophies: four EPL titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups. The most important thing is that Abramovich's pipe dream came true – Chelsea won the 2012 Champions League. In this season, The Aristocrats under new trendy coach Antonio Conte are confidently fighting for the fifth English Premier League title of Abramovich's era. Some authoritative financial newspaper counts from time to time the costs of the Russian moneybags not taking into account how football rose in price in general and how much very Chelsea's market value grew.

As Forbes estimated, as early as 2010, the London club was assessed at $658 million, in 2015, Chelsea was 1,37 billion already. So in any case, the Russian billionaire is at an advantage (he bought the team for £140 million). In addition, Roman Abramovich was accepted in London where he was received by a disapproving babble back in 2003.

Dmitry Rybolovlev: Falcao and comeback of the Principality of Monaco to elite football

Dmitry Rybolovlev's Monaco Sport Invest purchased the major stock of shares of French Monaco FC for almost the same purpose on the eve of New Year break in 2011. The attitude to this team in the principality is more reverent than that of London to Chelsea. This is why it seemed it was easier to become one of them. No sooner said than done, and 66,7% of Monaco FC shares became Rybolovlev's property who immediately bound himself to invest €100 million in the club during 4 years. It is the guaranteed minimum value, and if needed, its volume can increase, according to the official message.

When the contract was signed, Monaco was on the edge of a financial collapse and needed in an urgent financial support. The club that is famous by European standards left the French Ligue 1. The saddest thing is that the losses of Monaco totalled about €14 million in 2011. The 7-time champion of France where top players (Barthez, Henry, Klinsmann, etc.) played in the past could stop existing. It all allowed Rybolovlev to pick up the famous football club quite easily.

Unlike Abramovich, Rybolovlev did not throw his money having preferred a gradual comeback of the team to top floors of French football. In the winter transfer window in 2012, the Russian owner of Monaco spent only €15 million to become stronger. As a result, Monaco returned to Ligue 1 in 2013. The purchase of Radamel Falcao for €43 million became a life-changing moment on the road to the Champions League where Monaco is too great in this season.

When the contract was signed, Monaco was on the edge of a financial collapse and needed in an urgent financial support. Photo:

Nowadays we can say that the ''Russian mission'' in the Principality of Monaco ended successfully. The club came back and stays confidently in Ligue 1's top 3 (two bronze and one silver medals in the last three seasons) and successfully performs in the Champions League having reached the semi-final of the most prestigious competition of the Old World. Rybolovlev also was good at choosing the head coach of his team – he chose not very celebrated Jardim who was the next ''new Mourinho''.

Anton Zingarevich ''broke even'': words and broken dreams of Reading

Another Russian moneybags who was inspired by Abramovich's example purchased one of the oldest British clubs Reading when in 2012 this team won the championship and got the right to play in the English Premier League in the next season. The billionaire paid just €25 million for this pleasure having purchased 51% of shares of the club.

''I think Reading has big potential. First of all, we will work on infrastructure. We will see what will be in the next season. But I think Reading can be in the top 10 strongest English teams in 5 years,'' Zingarevich shared his plans.

As time has shown, it was just words. In the first season, the billionaire found only €9,2 million for strengthening of the squad, not forgetting about compatriot Pavel Pogrebnyak, who came for free from London's Fulham Football Club. Zingarevich underestimated the level and financial voracity of the Premier League, and the next season the team fell back to the Championship. The interest of the oligarch to the ''big football'' started dwindling away.

In the next season, Zingarevich sold players at €4,36 million and bought only at €1,7 million. From bad to worse: sale at another €10,5 million, and the club found itself on the verge of dropping out from the Championship. In the end, the businessman sold his stake to three anonymous Thai businessmen, and already this season the club again claims to progress to the Premier League — shortly before the finish of the championship, it is the third of the second most important football league in Britain. Calling things by their names, the history of Zingarevich on the football field of Foggy Albion is a lesson how one should not do big business in sports at the level of the computer game Football Manager.

The interest of the oligarch to the ''big football'' started dwindling away. Photo:

Suleyman Kerimov: ''money down the drain'' of Russian football

If the finances of Anton Zingarevich did not suffer much, given modest spending of Reading in the transfer market, then Suleyman Kerimov got mixed up seriously. Perhaps, the main blunder of the oligarch is connected with the fact that he decided to invest his money in domestic football. The new owner of Anzhi since 2011, nearly over three years, has managed to waste about €450 million. The sensational transfer was the transfer of Cameroonian striker of world level Samuel Eto'o for €27 million. In fact, this price tag by itself pales against the 20-million-year salary of the player, which has made him one of the highest paid players in the world.

In February 2012, the favourite of Russian fans Guus Hiddink became the head coach of Anzhi. Then the Dagestan club bought the most prominent players of the national team –Igor Denisov (€15 million), Aleksandr Kokorin (19), Alexey Ionov (5) became Anzhi players. Thus, the payroll swelled up to €70 million a year.

But it didn't help. In the 2012-2013 season, Kerimov's team took the third place, however the next one it failed (13th). In the end, the oligarch soon conceded the club to Osman Kadiev — former president of Makhachkala's Dynamo, which dispersed all the stars. Anzhi failed in Football National League, but then managed to return to the elite and now is a strong team, which this season will certainly keep residence in Russian Premier League.

Samuel Eto'oaThe new owner of Anzhi since 2011, nearly over three years, has managed to waste about €450 million. Photo:

Thus, Anzhi of Kerimov's times was spending €75 million a year on average during 6 years. But even this figure pales in comparison with the 120-million budget of Kazan Rubin for the current season alone, in which the team of Spanish specialist Javi Gracia is the 11th.

By Artur Khalillulov