The NFL is finally going to England. Well, sort of.
An investment entity affiliated with the San Francisco 49ers, 49ers Enterprises, will announce today a strategic partnership with the famous English soccer club Leeds United. Leading the way for the 49ers will be Paraag Marathe, president of 49ers enterprises and executive vice president of football operations.
“I got to know Andrea Radrizzani, the owner,” Marathe told Yahoo Sports. “We hit it off. Andrea is a good businessman, but more importantly, he is really passionate. Passionate about getting Leeds back to where they belong. That passion is infectious. We just started talking about how we can help him, given our experience, background and resources in the NFL.”
While the recent history of Leeds United hasn’t been as kind, the club is steeped in rich tradition, dating back to its age-old rivalry with European stalwart Manchester United. Leeds, which was founded in 1919, has captured three first division (Premiership) titles — most recently in 1992 — though the team has not competed in the Premier League since the 2003-04 season. Additionally, it won the FA Cup in 1971, England’s much coveted championship. Leeds has also featured some of England’s finest homegrown players — names like James Milner, Rio Ferdinand and Aaron Lennon.
In fact, no club in the Championship — England’s highly competitive second division below the Premier League — draws a better attendance record either. And Leeds United accomplishes such a feat playing in the hallowed grounds of Elland Road, the franchise’s beloved stadium originally constructed in 1897.
“The one thing that has not wavered is the fan hood is pretty strong,” Marathe said. “They need the right leadership to help them get [back to the Premiership].”
Marathe also believes that the 49ers’ recent rebuild will pay dividends to his efforts as one of the club’s directors.
“We obviously went through a pretty big transition here a couple years ago in setting up our football operations,” he said. “Sharing a lot of those learnings on how to build something back to where it belongs. … This is similar to what we’re trying to do here, is build something for sustained success, not just a flash in the pan.”
Marathe doesn’t put a timeline on things, but his blueprint for success is very clear while appealing to a rabid fanbase located in the U.K.’s third-largest city.
“Success is getting back to the Premiership,” he added, “competing in the Premier League and building it back up so that they stay up, not just back up and down.”
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Jordan Schultz is an NFL, NBA and NCAAB insider/analyst for Yahoo Sports.