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Chelsea owners to review alleged toxic culture in marketing department

Chelsea's investigation into accusations of toxic culture comes after revelations that former head of club’s TV channel took his own lifeGetty Images

EPL club Chelsea's new owners have "commissioned an investigation into accusations of a toxic culture of bullying within their marketing team” after it emerged that former Head of Content & Production Richard Bignell "took his own life," according to Ben Rumsby of the London TELEGRAPH. The club has "appointed 'an external review team'" following the revelation Bignell had "killed himself ... in January and that a coroner’s report had found he had been 'deeply troubled by anxiety, depression and despair following the loss of his job.'" The N.Y. Times reported that Bignell, who worked at Chelsea for 18 years, had been "abruptly sacked in September a day after returning from more than a year of medical leave.” Chelsea’s previous leadership had "hired an outside firm to conduct a cultural review of their marketing department in March" but it was to be "jointly overseen by the executive accused of being to blame for the worst of its problems” (London TELEGRAPH, 6/30).

BROUGHT TO LIGHT: In N.Y., Tariq Panja notes Bignell's death “brought to light longstanding concerns about the environment inside the team’s marketing department ... and the behavior of its leader, Gary Twelvetree.” Almost a dozen current and former Chelsea employees “spoke of a toxic workplace culture under Twelvetree that they said left many staff members feeling belittled, bullied and sometimes even fearful of merely attending meetings.” The employees said that they "had come to expect being berated by their boss in front of colleagues.” Others said that they "had faced his wrath in more humiliating ways, ordered to stand up and leave staff meetings on a single man’s word.” By last year, multiple Chelsea employees "had vanished for weeks, or sometimes months, of medical leave.” At least "10 staff members -- from a department that employs about 50 people -- had left the club altogether.” Few employees “had confidence in the review of the department once they heard it was to be jointly overseen by Twelvetree" and the "outside consultants Chelsea hired.” Staff members said that they "have yet to receive any conclusions from the now-completed review, and that there have been no changes to work practices” (N.Y. TIMES, 6/29).

WHIRLWIND SALE: SPORTS BUSINESS JOURNAL's Chris Smith cited as saying that the "whirlwind process" of selling Chelsea to the consortium led by Todd Boehly, which lasted just 89 days from sale announcement to closing, included "unprecedented covenants that limit the incoming owners’ ability to sell their stakes, raise debt or take money out of the club, all negotiated in the shadow of a war and under the close-watching eye of the British government." The dozen first-round bids were "quickly whittled down with a focus on who would be a good steward for the team, commit to long-term investments and complete a deal quickly and with minimal debt financing." A source said that the Boehly group had "ultimately offered the most money," but that the "financial differences were negligible and, ultimately, unimportant." Rather, Boehly’s group "had an edge thanks, in part, to its long-term vision for the club, its extensive track record of owning sports teams and navigating complex transactions, and being in a position to complete a deal quickly and without any debt financing" (SPORTS BUSINESS JOURNAL, 6/27 issue).

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