Moag and Company Sports Notes (29 March 2019)

Date: Apr 2019

Trivia

What NBA team was the first to win the NBA finals 3 or more years in a row?

Last Week’s Answer: The first NCAA Division I men’s basketball national champion was Oregon in 1939. 

Football:

Atlanta Falcons Owner Arthur Blank has sold a 10% share of the team to "two current limited partners and one new limited partner" in a deal that is estimated to be worth $300M, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. NFL owners approved the transaction that "transfers a minority percentage of the Falcons’ ownership" to one new limited partner, Canadian mining magnate Alan Kestenbaum, and to two existing limited partners: Doug Hertz and Ron Canakaris. The Falcons' other limited partners include Warrick Dunn, Derek Smith, Ed Mendel and Brian Barker. John Williams, a Georgia developer "who was a limited partner of the franchise" since '08, "died suddenly" in April '18. The three limited partners are "purchasing all of Williams’ former shares in the team”. Blank said of the transaction, "We got a very acceptable valuation based on the trends in the league, sales of teams, sales of ownership and what have you. There is no discount for being a minority owner.” Asked if that means the valuation was $3B, Blank replied, “Yeah, I would say.” Blank plans to use the proceeds from the sale for his Arthur M. Blank Foundation, which he said has gifted $400M since its founding in '95. He said, “My (six) kids all want me to do more during my lifetime. So, they are encouraging me to do more in terms of philanthropy. We hope to get to a significantly higher level in the next four, five years".

AAF games "will be played this weekend," the eighth week of the league's inaugural season, but beyond this week, it is "entirely possible that the plug will be pulled," according to a source cited by PROFOOTBALLTALK.com. Modification of the NFL's labor deal is "needed in large part" because players that would be "loaned by NFL teams to the AAF would need protection against serious injury while playing in the developmental league." Any agreement between the AAF and NFL, if one "were to be reached, also would allow players under 'futures' contracts to play in the XFL". The state of the AAF was "very precarious" when league Chair Tom Dundon got involved, and that if he "didn't get involved it was done than." The league will fold if Dundon "walks away now. It very well could go away after this week if Dundon decides he’s out and they don’t have another investor". Part of this is definitely some sort of negotiating ploy. We've already seen the NFL take a couple of things from the AAF from the rules side of it so maybe this is kind of a negotiating thing." Sources have been cited as saying that Dundon has sunk $70M into the AAF going into his "sixth week of ownership." The league went to Dundon in February because he "offered to essentially ensure that the AAF didn't have to raise more money from multiple partners in the near future. The AAF's "main football investor, whose name has not appeared in the press to this point," is former Minnesota Vikings investor Reggie Fowler. Sources said that Fowler, who was initially going to buy the Vikings "before having financial issues," committed $170M to the AAF. Fowler had "only put up" $28M of that by the time Dundon "swooped in".

Baseball:

New York Mets Chair & CEO Fred Wilpon is "poised to enlarge his majority Mets stake in a deal that values the struggling team" at roughly $1.5B, according to the N.Y. Post. Sources said that Wilpon's investment firm Sterling Equities has "agreed to pay" roughly $180M to "buy back" about a 12% stake in the Mets from Comcast and Charter Communications, owner of the Spectrum network. Sources added that Comcast and Charter -- which acquired the stake in '12 from the Wilpons, when the family was "scrambling to raise cash after losing a fortune on the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme -- have been trying to unload the stake since last summer." Sources said that a "major stumbling block" has been the likelihood that Wilpon will pass control of the team to his son, COO Jeff Wilpon, who has been "blasted by critics as meddlesome and tightfisted." A source said that Sterling Equities "likely paid for the stake in cash as there are rules limiting the amount of debt an owner can put on a team." The Wilpons last summer were "said to be unlikely to buy back the stakes".

Three teams will top $200M in Opening Day payroll this season while eight clubs will "open the season with payrolls under" $100M, showing the disparity that exists across MLB, according to the USA Today. The Boston Red Sox once again "top the charts" with a $224.1M payroll for their 40-man roster. The only other teams crossing the $200M threshold are the New York Yankees ($215.1M) and Chicago Cubs ($214.7M). All three are "projected to eclipse" the $206M luxury tax. That contrasts with 11 teams carrying payrolls that are $60M or more "under the luxury tax." That disparity "exemplifies why there may be a push for a salary floor" in the next CBA. People around baseball wonder how MLB can tell teams not to rebuild with low payrolls after seeing the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs tear their teams "down to nothing and then building them back up and winning World Series in the last decade." "The problem here is that it also reminds us that too many teams are just making too much money and they're not necessarily (incentivized) to win right now."

Basketball:

Alibaba co-Founder Joe Tsai is in "talks to buy" both Barclays Center and the renovated Nassau Coliseum from Brooklyn Nets Majority Owner Mikhail Prokhorov, according to the N.Y. Post. Sources said that the negotiations are "expected to pave the way" for Tsai to become the "new owner" of the Nets. Tsai bought a 49% stake in the team from Prokhorov last year for $1B, and that deal gives Tsai rights to "buy the rest of the team" before the '21-22 NBA season for an additional $1.35B. By buying Barclays Center, it "will be easier for Tsai to buy the Nets because the NBA likes its owners to own the arenas where their teams play." A sale to Tsai would "be embraced by the NBA, which is anxious for him to take control of the Nets so he can help the league grow in China." A change in ownership could also "help shore up" the Brooklyn arena, which "opened with a splash in 2012 but which has been struggling to make a profit".

Hockey:

William Hill will add its first league deal and take on the designation of “official sports betting partner” of the NHL. It is a significant step for the sportsbook, which had eschewed league sponsor deals even as competitor MGM Resorts Int'l locked down four of them (NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS). William Hill, which was the first sportsbook to sign team sponsorship deals when it partnered with the Las Vegas Golden Knights and the New Jersey Devils, becomes the NHL’s third sponsor in the category, joining MGM and FanDuel. The deal, which a source said is for two years, is valued in the low seven figures annually. The pact does not include the purchase of official league data, a requirement that the NBA and MLB have demanded from potential league and team sponsors in the category. Key assets for William Hill include exposure on NHL.com in states in which sports betting is legal and access to market to the NHL’s fan database, as well as the ability to promote around the league’s marquee events -- the Stanley Cup Finals, All-Star Game and Winter Classic. The deal also includes escalators on that media spend that could make it worth more to the NHL as sports betting becomes legal in more NHL markets. William Hill CEO Joe Asher said of the NHL, “They’ve taken a very progressive approach to sports betting and how to work with operators. Through them understanding how we were viewing it, we got there. For us, it’s all about what value we can get out of the opportunity vs. the money we’re spending." NHL Chief Revenue Officer & Exec VP/Global Partnerships Keith Wachtel pointed to the distinctions between the three sportsbooks that have signed league deals -- MGM, FanDuel and William Hill. He said, “Like a lot of the operators, they want to be part of this. We are finding cost-effective commercial opportunities on a short-term basis. We’re doing that because we don’t want to go too far out.

Sources: SportsBusiness Daily; The Athletic; ESPN.com; Atlanta Journal-Constitution; N.Y. Post; PROFOOTBALLTALK.com; USA Today

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