Private Equity in Professional Sports: Perfecting the Endgame

By Allyson Ruscitella

Sports and entertainment, to most professional sports fans, feels redundant. Sports are entertainment. Football commands the attention of half of America’s population on any given Sunday, and marketing departments are hard at work attracting the other half. A favorite team, in any sport, that earns the “W” brings unrivaled bliss, impish satisfaction, and bragging rights. Sports are woven into the fabric of our culture; each game reminds us of our love for winning, hatred for losing, and our obsession with keeping score. Green fields, hardwood courts, and sheets of ice become battlegrounds of finesse, agility, pride and grit. We can’t get enough. Professional sports are America’s entertainment, and they’re here to stay.

Win-loss records, historically, have weighed heavy on bottom lines. Victories, winning seasons, and championships can be elusive. But to private equity, winning games doesn’t  matter. It doesn’t have to. Returns count–wins don’t– and history shows private equity could have the candy-making secret. In a nine year span, the enterprise value of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs tripled, according to Forbes, accounting for $413M in value. So how does mediocre on-ice performance, a disenchanted fan base, and no chance of making fingerprints on the Stanley Cup lead to industry-leading returns?  It’s the business equivalent of terroir to wine grapes, merroir to oysters– the bounty is derived from the perfect, delicate balance of key factors and forces. It’s making astute moves, redefining surplus, and living for the bottom line and the trophy. It’s business sense unencumbered by love for a team.

“The role of PE in professional sports will continue to evolve. As professional sports has leveraged technology to engage fans and broken new ground in revenue generation, doors have opened for private equity,”  notes Alfred Zaccagnino, President and Founder of the Samarian Group of Companies, a private equity firm headquartered in New York City. “If current trends continue, ownership of professional sports teams will continue to be a promising sector for private equity in the next decade.”

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