Leeds United part-owners reveal relationship hope and city event after aggressive 49ers moves

The 49ers have gone quietly about their business as part-owners of Leeds United to date but the NFL franchise are planning to make much more noise in the UK.
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A broadcast partnership with talkSport and an agreement with UK-based digital content publisher Gridiron is part of a concerted effort from the San Francisco operation to 'extend their reach' on these shores.

This Sunday they will host their first ever official UK fan event with a 'watch party' for the season opener against the Chicago Bears.

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Rather than holding it in London, where the NFL has traditionally focused its attention, they're coming to BOX sports bar in Leeds and promising some form of representation from Elland Road.

A push into the UK is no surprise given the 49ers' financial backers upped their stake in Leeds United to 44 per cent.

They hold ambitions for a full takeover from Andrea Radrizzani and although have said little on that front, or indeed on any front when it comes to Whites business this year, they have had a presence at Elland Road for recent Premier League games and board meetings.

If 49ers' chief marketing officer Alex Chang has his way, they will be all the more visible at Elland Road in the future and, at the same time, increase awareness of Leeds United back home.Leeds United part-owners reveal relationship hope after aggressive UK move

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"We'll certainly want to be able to have our players go to Elland Road, we want to have these players come to Levi's Stadium as well," he told SportsPro Podcast.

QUIET PARTNERS - Leeds United majority owner Andrea Radrizzani has said the 49ers let him work 'in peace' and the boardroom at Elland Road is settled. Pic: GettyQUIET PARTNERS - Leeds United majority owner Andrea Radrizzani has said the 49ers let him work 'in peace' and the boardroom at Elland Road is settled. Pic: Getty
QUIET PARTNERS - Leeds United majority owner Andrea Radrizzani has said the 49ers let him work 'in peace' and the boardroom at Elland Road is settled. Pic: Getty

"We want to make sure that we're kind of leveraging that relationship between the two organisations. We've already had Jesse [Marsch] here during the offseason and visited with the team.

"We have several players in the 49ers who are soccer fans who are now becoming Leeds fans because of our relationship there. "We have 49ers fans becoming Leeds fans and vice versa. So there's definitely a lot of cross pollination to be done."

An English football club and an American football franchise do not make for the most natural of bedfellows.

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While there will be a limited crossover in terms of supporters of one club who dabble in the other, die-hard Leeds season ticket holders who never miss a 49ers game would be a very rare breed. Regular attendees of 49ers games who get up in the early hours to watch Leeds in lunchtime kick-offs might be even rarer.

That fact made for some stilted initial attempts to shoehorn the relationship into social media content, with Leeds players wishing their 49ers counterparts well and vice versa.

Chang believes they can do much more together, though.

"You can do casual things wishing a team good luck and vice versa and that's okay," he said.

"But where it becomes a bit more interesting for us to be able to do more bespoke content, branded content between the two clubs or more specific content with players interacting with each other or things like that. So that's definitely an opportunity for us."

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What might make any planned content less incongruous is the arrival at Elland Road of Marsch and fellow Americans Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson, much to Chang's delight.

"I think the American influence on Leeds is serendipitous, the signings of Brenden and Tyler," he said.

"We have nothing to do with that obviously but it's cool to have some American players there and they're playing very well, and Jesse's doing a great job as well.

"Having that connection is nice and helps us kind of strengthen that connection between two organisations. That's great and helps our fans here in the US become real fans because of that strong American connection. That's great too. And we want to encourage that."

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What will undoubtedly prick up the ears of Leeds fans much more is the possibility of 'group-wide' commercial deals that could boost their club coffers.

President of 49ers Enterprises Paraag Marathe, also now Leeds vice chairman, has often spoken of knowledge-sharing and the expertise that they can bring with them across the Atlantic but at times it has been hard to pin down the specific, tangible benefits of their involvement at Elland Road.

Chang has put a little more meat on the bones with the suggestion that the clubs are considering joint sponsorship opportunities.

"It's very much something that we're thinking about," he said.

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"We've had teams working on that as well, to say 'can we strike a commercial sponsorship deal that includes both clubs?’ There has been a lot of interest in that area, especially for global brands who really understand the power of both sports and we're talking about the two biggest, most popular leagues and sports in the world, right?

"And you have two historic franchises. It's a pretty powerful proposition."

It would not be without its challenges however, with certain English footballing concepts very much alien to some American firms.

"A lot of times we're starting with the basis of, let's say, a US-based brand right sponsor we work with here," said Chang.

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"Sometimes for them, kind of on an individual level, because they're regionally based, explaining to them the PL, explaining to them Leeds United, the whole system.

"Last year trying to explain to them what relegation means and thankfully avoiding relegation. So having those types of conversations are important and vice versa. In the UK when we're talking to UK-based organisations, talking about the power of the NFL and understanding what the 49ers mean within the NFL, what our market means, what our brand means, what our fan base represents. So it's education on both sides, but it's absolutely part of our strategy."

What Leeds United supporters are most interested in hearing about is the 49ers' strategy for extending their reach at the Whites and taking over entirely.

Radrizzani recently insisted that the boardroom is settled.

“In this moment, there is nothing under discussion," he told the Athletic.

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"They have, as you know, an option to take a majority in 2024. Maybe before or at that moment, something will be discussed. At this moment, we are super happy.”

So while the 49ers are making moves in the UK, for the moment, they're sitting comfortably and quietly around the table at Elland Road.