Insight into Jim Ratcliffe the billionaire sports team owner investing in a variety of sports from the America's Cup to F1 and Football

Sir Jim Ratcliffe is a huge backer of major sports teams, inducing the British bid for the America’s Cup, INEOS Britannia.

Formerly a chemical engineer, Sir Jim Ratcliffe became an investment specialist before founding the Anglo-Swiss petrochemicals giant INEOS in 1998. Over two decades Ratcliffe grew INEOS into an enormous multinational, the fourth largest chemicals company in the world, with a reported a profit of €3.5bn in 2021.

Ratcliffe’s previously worked with oil giant Esso, but in 1998 he formed INEOS to buy out BP’s chemicals division Inspec.

INEOS has rapidly built to become a giant in the chemicals industry and has helped Ratcliffe to become one of the richest men in the UK. He was listed as the richest man in the UK in 2018 Sunday Times Rich List with a net worth of £21.05 billion.

Jim Ratcliffe and sports

Jim Ratcliffe was relatively unknown beyond the financial pages, despite his impressive wealth, until he and INEOS began to sponsor a variety of major sports teams and British sporting endeavours. Speaking in 2021 he said, “There are three of us who own INEOS, and we’re all from the North of England, just three normal blokes who like sport.”

Ratcliffe’s first major investment was in football, when he bought the Swiss club FC Lausanne-Sport in 2017.

This was swiftly followed by one of his most ambitious partnerships, when Jim Ratcliffe – who is founder, chairman and majority shareholder of INEOS – and the company partnered with the most successful Olympic sailor of all time, Sir Ben Ainslie, to try to win the America’s Cup.

In 2018 it was announced that INEOS would fund Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup team in what was the biggest – and possibly the fastest – sponsorship investment in British sailing.

The £110m deal, aimed at winning back the Cup for the first time in its 167-year history, was signed a mere four weeks after Ratcliffe met Ainslie in a London pub and chatted over a drink. Ratcliffe later joked that it was “the most expensive gin and tonic in history!”.

The partnership was met with some controversy as INEOS is a major producer of plastics which sits at odds to sailing’s many clean ocean campaigns. Ratcliffe is also a proponent of fracking, was a prominent Brexit supporter, and moved to Monaco in 2020.


Ratcliffe the team owner

Shortly after the announcement was made in 2018, Yachting World sat down with Ratcliffe and Ainslie at the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes, the club the British challenge represents, to find out more about their partnership – and how Ratcliffe sees his role as a major investor in sports.

“The America’s Cup sits in the ‘intriguing challenge’ box,” he told Yachting World. “It’s not a big INEOS thing, because INEOS is not a consumer brand so we’re not dependent on doing these kind of things – or F1 or anything else – for our business to be successful. It’s not going to help us sell petrochemicals or oil or gas.

“But it’s a sensational challenge really to bring the America’s Cup back to the UK. It’s just a British thing really, we’re Brits and it would be marvellous to see the Cup come back here – finally.”

“The America’s Cup is different, but it’s the equivalent to some of the business challenges we’ve had. Our approach is similar. 

“With Ben and the team we hover a bit like a shareholder. We like to have a sense of what’s going on and who’s doing what, and whether the money’s being spent sensibly, but it is a very light touch really.

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And as for his approach to backing a sports team? “It’s not that different to working in business really – it has to be fun, and you have to get on with people, otherwise why do it? Because we don’t need to do it. But there’s all those parallels with business: the journey, the challenge.

“If we buy a business we would hope to double the profits within five years, it’s a journey. This is no different really. The people are just as committed and intense in both.”

Ainslie added: “It’s been really fascinating learning how the INEOS business is run and how to relate that to a sports team with the core goal of winning the Cup. How everything comes back to that one core goal, those decisions and not getting distracted by other factors.”

Although the British team did not win the America’s Cup in 2021, the partnership was renewed and the team, now named INEOS Britannia, are currently building up towards the 2024 America’s Cup.

This time the team is also Challenger of Record, which means that Ratcliffe and Ainslie have increased influence over the event’s format.


INEOS cycling, Formula 1 and marathons

Shortly after this massive deal, in 2019, Ratcliffe – who is a keen cyclist as well as a passionate mountaineer – purchased the Team Sky cycling franchise, subsequently rebranded Team INEOS and then INEOS Grenadiers. They since won the 2019 Tour de France and 2021 Giro d’Italia.

With the use of cyclors, or pedal-powered grinders, on the America’s Cup AC75s there have been plenty of cross-overs between the cycling and sailing teams, with some of the America’s Cup team grinders training with Grenadiers in Palma.

Ratcliffe set out to make history in 2019 when he backed the INEOS 1.59 Challenge, a no-stones-unturned bid to smash the 2-hour marathon time. Eliud Kipchoge broke the two-hour barrier at a special event in Austria, setting a new time of 1hr 59m 40s.

INEOS and Jim Ratcliffe also went into Formula 1 when, in February 2020, INEOS became principal partners of Mercedes AMG F1, signing a five-year agreement with the team.

The America’s Cup has often been called the Formula 1 of sailing, and it was no surprise when Ainslie’s INEOS Britannia team partnered with Mercedes AMG F1 in 2021.

The linking of one of the world’s most successful motorsport teams, with the British squad sailing squad, and the potential to share key personnel and design resources, was seen as a major advantage to Ainslie in his bid to win the America’s Cup. Other America’s Cup teams followed suit with similar partnerships.

Jim Ratcliffe and football

Ratcliffe has long been linked to a number of football clubs. He has owned of FC Lausanne-Sport, a Swiss Super League football club, since 2017 but he has also been linked to a number of Premier League football clubs.

Following the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, sanctions on Roman Abramovich forced him to put Premier League side Chelsea F.C. up for sale. Ratcliffe made £4.25 billion bid to buy the club but this was rejected.

Most recently, in January 2023 INEOS announced publicly that it had entered into the formal process of bidding for Manchester United after the current owners announced it was looking for new investors.

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