Sunday, May 18, 2014
Have Sports Teams Become too Large to Stay Private?
Apparently hearing the words “All-time highs” has scared investors into dumping stock worldwide, and some stocks have been hit harder than others, WWE to name just one. But one person is clearly not crying over the Dow going through 2 triple digits losing days in a row, that person is billionaire, condemned racist and exiled former Los Angles Clipper’s owner Donald Sterling.
The man worth nearly $1.5 billion has recently been fined $2.5 million by the NBA and forced to sell his Los Angeles Clippers after a recording of him saying racist comments about African Americans was leaked to the press. In response to the public’s outcry the NBA banned Sterling for life and forced him to sell the Los Angeles Clippers. The funny part is Donald Sterling stands to make windfall by selling the Clippers as a number of buyers have already appeared interested including Magic Johnson and Larry Ellison. Many expect the Clippers to sell for north of a billion, which means Sterling will profit nicely, considering he bought the NBA team for a mere $20 million in the mid 1980’s.
Personally I am not very interested in sports but as a man interested in Finance and business I found the upcoming sale of the Clippers interesting because it threw the prices of NBA teams and sports teams in general into question.
It has become apparent that over the last 30 years the value of Sports teams has gone up and up, reaching the point where now Sports teams have become large multi hundred million and billion dollar companies in their own right. Prices for teams have gotten so high that even the richest of the rich can no longer afford to singlehandedly pay for them.
Mark Cuban, the billionaire, outspoken owner of the Dallas Mavericks (another NBA team) told CNN in an interview that he liked to invest in sports teams but prices have gotten so high that he could no longer afford to buy them outright. Cuban said that any offer to buy the Clipper’s or any other sports team for that matter would have to come from a joint bid by a number of large investors or Wall Street. When a man worth over $2 billion says he can no longer afford sports teams it calls into question whether sports teams have gotten too large to stay mostly in private hands.
I find it strange that with all the money in sports there are very few sports team that are actually publically traded. Off course there are a few Sports related stocks out there, the Green Bay Packers an NFL football team are publicly traded so is Madison Square Garden. But those are only two, and there dozens of sports teams in the U.S alone.
But I believe this might begin to change. With sports teams becoming large companies in their own right and requiring large amounts of capital to operate, the world of Sports might begin to drift closer and closer to Wall Street. This process has already started with a number of Private Equity firms taking positions in sports teams.
Last year Joshua Harris and David Blitzer both business men who made their fortunes in the Private Equity field bought the New Jersey Devils, for an unreported sum. Both men announced that they will be managing the Hockey team like any other business, by putting profits ahead of anything else.
As to the Clippers, the estimated price of the team is somewhere around $575 million, but with bids coming in the ultimate price paid will be considerably higher. But what interests me is why sell Donald Sterling’s share to any group of buyers at all? Why not sell those shares to the public through an IPO.
The market for Sports is enormous and an NBA team going public would generate a lot of hype and this might translate into a successful public offering. So far I have not seen any news to support that the Clippers are going public but it is an interesting though none the less.
In any case with the value of sports teams going up and up and up it is not crazy to think that in a few years many of them will begin to go public and when they do it will create a whole new industry for investors to look into.
But obviously many of you are interested in how to invest in sports right now and not in a few years. If this is the case and you do not have hundreds of millions to buy directly into a team, you have a few options. First it is possible to invest in a private equity fund that specializes in sports, unfortunately these funds often require you to invest minimum amount of up to $100,000. If that is not for you there are number of sports stocks already out there.
The most recognizable one is probably Madison Square Garden, which trades under the ticker symbol MSG. The stock has not performed very well in 2014 with shares down almost 13% this year, the company does trade at a premium to the rest of the market with a P/E ratio of 24.6X. When it comes to whether or not to invest in Madison Square Garden I might recommend against it considering the companies past performance. But for investors looking for a sports stock to add to their portfolios it is definitely an option.
Regardless, as the value of sports teams goes up the chances that more and more will go public increases, and who knows soon I might be writing a blog on whether or not it is a good idea to invest in NHL, NBA, MLB, or NFL teams.
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