Wildcat ignored football over the summer, and woke to find the world much changed when the new UEFA Champions League kicked off last week. It was still 45 minutes each way between Real Madrid and Manchester City, but the game played out against an unfamiliar backdrop – a giant Gazprom logo.
Gazprom announced itself as league sponsor until 2015 on 9 July, but you’re forgiven for missing a less-trumpeted statement just a week later: the company is also Chelsea FC’s Global Energy partner. Gazprom Energy, the retail arm of Gazprom Marketing & Trading, will “continue to supply gas and now provide electricity to the club on an exclusive basis” until 2015, according to a statement.
Does Chelsea’s Russian owner Roman Abramovich enjoy a preferential tariff? “I don’t think we should overstate his role in all of this,” a Gazprom spokesman – who admits to being a Spurs fan — tells Wildcat.
“Abramovich isn’t going to be upset that Gazprom’s involved with his club. But this isn’t a huge amount of money. Gazprom has been providing Chelsea with gas for years. This is just an upgrade of a previous arrangement which will bring power to the club’s other facilities, such as the training ground,” he added. (Wildcat, a lifelong Manchester United fan, would rather Chelsea trained in the dark.)
Gazprom began supplying energy to Chelsea “after the Ken Bates era”, according to the spokesman. Bates sold Chelsea to Abramovich in June 2003, but remained as club chairman until 2004, so it’s reasonable to assume the deal was struck around then.
Gazprom Energy supplies at least two other major football teams in the UK, one of which is a Premier League outfit, the spokesman added. Wildcat couldn’t track down the other two customers, but a company newsletter published in December 2011 lists Manchester United as a customer of Gazprom Global Energy Solutions (GGES). GGES provides meter reading services, which were possibly deployed to monitor Wayne Rooney’s salary.
Back to the Chelsea deal. “I’d look at it as an attempt to bring about a wider exposure and understanding of the Gazprom group. Chelsea won the Champions League last time round, and Gazprom is also an official partner of the competition until 2015, so the deal makes sense,” the spokesman says.
Both Gazprom and Chelsea were mum on the deal’s financial arrangements, but any revenue is good news for the club, which needs to lose less than £45 million (€56.6 million) in its next two accounts to comply with UEFA’s new Financial Fair Play Rules.
Abramovich, football and Gazprom have a shared history. Gazprom bought three-quarters of Sibneft’s shares from Abramovich’s Millhouse Capital in a $13 billion megadeal in September 2005. Sibneft pulled the plug on a $54-million sponsorship deal with UEFA Cup holders CSKA Moscow one month later. Sibneft became Gazprom Neft in May 2006.
Gazprom now owns FC Zenit Saint Petersburg, and also sponsors German team Schalke 04, but officially denied speculation last month it was preparing an investment of €180 million in Silvio Berlusconi-owned AC Milan.
Gas fuels football elsewhere. The Qatar Investment Authority, the repository for the Arab state’s riches gleaned from gas exports, became the sole shareholder of Paris Saint-Germain earlier this year. (Wildcat insolently suggests ‘LNG’ as a chant for opposing fans).
So does Chelsea pay Gazprom for its energy? “I’m not too sure about that,” says the spokesman. “But Gazprom will be more visible on advertising hoardings and during club interviews. Their workers will probably enjoy Chelsea hospitality, such as free tickets to games, and other entertainment,” he added.
Chelsea didn’t return calls seeking comment, but Wildcat’s always pleased to accept free tickets. CN