Big scores are inspiring more participation in the sports M&A game. Billionaire Philip Anschutz is shopping an empire that includes the Stanley Cup-winning Los Angeles Kings, David Beckham’s U.S. soccer club and a stake in the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers. After the $2.2-billion (U.S.) paid for the Dodgers baseball franchise and the success of Manchester United’s IPO, it’s no wonder if owners get off the sidelines.
New money is always eager to hobnob with All-Stars or fulfill childhood dreams. The modern era has even added a legitimate profit expectation to sports ownership. Dwindling live TV audiences make broadcast rights to sporting events more valuable, because they are relatively immune to time-shifting video recorders. That’s why returns on sports teams, and the stakes in regional TV networks that often accompany them, have lately eclipsed most asset classes. It also might explain why this year has seen the highest dollar volume for sports team sales since 2007, according to Thomson Reuters.
Success on the field isn’t a prerequisite for winning financially, either. The Dodgers finished last season victorious in barely more than half their games, yet owner Frank McCourt made a fivefold return in eight years even after putting the team into bankruptcy. In August, the subpar San Diego Padres and the NFL’s woeful Cleveland Browns each fetched multiples of their purchase prices in the 1990s.
The privately held Anschutz portfolio is packed with trophy assets. The Kings are the reigning royalty on the ice and the Lakers are 16-time champions. The company also owns and operates music festivals and stadiums in L.A. and London. That makes it more like a blend of MSG, the owner of the New York Knicks and Madison Square Garden, which trades at 30 times expected earnings next year, and Man U, whose IPO last month valued the enterprise at 22 times EBITDA. Both those valuations look steeped in fan-like optimism.
Marquee names have durable value, but something is bound to give in the explosive growth from TV licensing, sponsorship and ticket revenue. For now, buyers appear as hopeful as any team on opening day. Like their athletes, owners such as Mr. Anschutz have a chance to ride the momentum while it lasts.
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