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Bought in: The State of Private Equity in Sports

Though the NFL still won’t allow them, PE companies and executives are profoundly invested in many of the most successful, most valuable teams in sports — take a closer look at the full list.

There’s no investment under the sun that’s 100% foolproof, but given the steady increase in valuations among professional sports franchises year after year, we may be looking at the next closest thing.

Major North American sports organizations have appreciated as assets at a higher rate than both inflation and key index funds like the S&P 500 for many years. Forbes estimated in 2022 that the average NBA franchise value increased 15% from the year before — the Los Angeles Clippers‘ $3.9 billion valuation is nearly double what it was years ago when former Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer purchased the team in 2014 for a then-record $2 billion.

It’s no coincidence, then, that sports leagues’ rules have become more lenient over the years as to allow private equity companies to buy minority stakes in their respective franchises. On Sept. 6, data research and insight firm PitchBook released a study exploring just how deep the sports private equity rabbit hole truly goes in North America across the NBA, MLB, Major League Soccer, and NHL — and what that might say about what happens next.

Check out our topline overview below.

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Sports Private Equity Ownership & Investment Snapshot

  • A total of 63 North American sports teams across the NBA, MLB, MLS, and NHL have private equity ties, which PitchBook defines as either direct investment from such companies or through individual co-owners who are PE-affiliated.
  • The total value of these franchises adds up to an estimated $205.9 billion.
  • Notably, the NFL — the most profitable sports league in the world top-to-bottom — does not yet allow private equity investment.

The NBA Private Equity Landscape

The NBA leads the way with 20 of its 30 teams having some direct ownership connection to private equity.

NBA TEAMS CONNECTED TO PRIVATE EQUITY: Hawks, Celtics, Nets, Hornets, Cavaliers, Pistons, Warriors, Pacers, Lakers, Bucks, Timberwolves, Pelicans, Thunder, 76ers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Kings, Spurs, Jazz, Wizards

MLB PE Investments

Not to be outdone by much, 18 of the 30 Major League Baseball teams have a private equity relationship.

MLB TEAMS CONNECTED TO PRIVATE EQUITY: Diamondbacks, Orioles, Red Sox, Cubs, Reds, Guardians, Astros, Royals, Dodgers, Marlins, Brewers, Yankees, Athletics, Padres, Giants, Mariners, Cardinals, Rangers

Private Equity in MLS

In Major League Soccer, 15 of the 29 franchises include private equity ownership in some form.

  • Ares Management invested $150 million into Inter Miami in 2021 and an additional $75 million in August, an investment set to pay off handsomely following Lionel Messi‘s summer signing.
  • Bennett Rosenthal, Ares’ chairman, has a significant stake in defending MLS Cup champion LAFC.
  • In 2022, Arctos purchased a 15% stake in the Portland Timbers and NWSL‘s Portland Thorns at a $600 million valuation. Its investment in the Jazz also included a stake in Real Salt Lake.

MLS TEAMS CONNECTED TO PRIVATE EQUITY: Austin, Charlotte, DC United, Houston, Inter Miami, Nashville, New England, NYCFC, Philadelphia, Portland, Real Salt Lake, San Jose, Sporting KC, Toronto

PE Investors in the NHL

The NHL has just 10 of its 32 teams involved in PE.

NHL TEAMS CONNECTED TO PRIVATE EQUITY: Hurricanes, Wild, Canadiens, Devils, Islanders, Penguins, Kraken, Lightning, Maple Leafs, Capitals

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