Cleveland Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam have agreed to purchase Marc Lasry’s 25-per-cent stake of the Milwaukee Bucks in a deal that puts the value of the NBA franchise at US$3.5-billion, two people with knowledge of the negotiations said Monday.
The agreement has not been finalized, said the people, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because neither the Bucks nor the Haslams publicly disclosed any element of the agreement.
Those numbers, if finalized, would mean the Haslams plan to spend about US$875-million for Lasry’s stake of the team.
The Haslams, who also own the Columbus Crew of Major Soccer League, have explored buying other professional sports teams, including the Minnesota Timberwolves in the past. Sportico was first to report the Haslam Sports Group’s interest in the Bucks. ESPN and The Athletic were first to report the agreement on Monday.
It would be the second-highest valuation in NBA history, behind the US$4-billion valuation for the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury when Mat Ishbia acquired them in a deal that closed earlier this month. It’s also a massive return on Lasry’s initial investment.
The Haslams bought the Browns from Randy Lerner in 2012 for US$1.05-billion. Their tenure in Cleveland mostly has been defined by losing records, changes and controversy.
The Browns have made the playoffs only once under the Haslams, who have made numerous coaching and front-office overhauls in their pursuit of a Super Bowl title. Last year, they were criticized for acquiring quarterback Deshaun Watson in a trade before signing him to a record contract while he was being accused of sexual misconduct by two dozen women in Texas.
Lasry and Wesley Edens, both New York investment firm executives, bought the Bucks from former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl for about US$550-million in 2014 with pledges to keep the team in Milwaukee. The Bucks’ ownership group also includes Jamie Dinan and Mike Fascitelli.
The Bucks have enjoyed great success since that sale. They moved into a new arena in 2018, won their first NBA title in 50 years in 2021 and have built a perennial contender around Greek superstar and two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The surging valuations almost certainly mean that the expansion fees will be well beyond what was originally thought when the NBA decides to add teams – something that will likely start getting discussed seriously once the league and the union complete their talks on a new labor agreement and the NBA completes its next rights deal with broadcast partners.
If the Suns and Bucks are both being valued in the US$3.5-to-US$4 billion range, it stands to reason that expansion fees will be at least that much and likely more when the league decides the time is right to add clubs.
“It is natural at some point that an organization expands,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said earlier this month at the all-star weekend in Salt Lake City.
“The view from our governors has been let’s figure out exactly what the new CBA looks like, let’s figure out what our new media deals look like. Then let’s think about expansion,” Silver said. “So invariably we will. There’s no active discussions in the league office right now, but we’ll turn back to it in a few years.”