March 25, 2024

Wall Street: Is sport investment becoming more attractive?

March 25, 2024

Wall Street: Is sport investment becoming more attractive?

"Investment" and "sport" seem increasingly inseparable terms. If at the beginning of the century these words began to walk hand in hand because millionaires like Roman Abramovich were spending millions of euros to acquire and inject money into a club, a case that multiplied over time, sometimes with more success than others, and changed the landscape of power and competitiveness in football, for example, today they are inseparable because of how clubs seek more diverse ways to finance themselves, how competitions have shaped up, and how each agent or institution thinks about the strategy to be at the competitive level it aspires to. This has resulted in a gigantic growth of the entire sports context, including what is nicknamed the 'king sport', where, in 2023, the 20 clubs that generated the most revenue, together, made over 10 billion euros, a historical maximum. Sports grow, reach more people, sell themselves in various formats, whether in the nostalgia of the return of sticker albums to documentary series on streaming platforms. The industry has become so attractive that even Wall Street can't resist it anymore.

In the reputable financial district of New York, the first step was taken by Goldman Sachs, which in September 2023 announced that it was creating a unit dedicated to "sports franchise" within the investment banking division with the aim of presenting potential clients with the possibility of investing in clubs, infrastructure, or other aspects of the industry.

Although the bank did not disclose the names of the assets that will be presented to potential clients, who will have the opportunity to invest in them, for example, by acquiring a 'slice' of a club, it is publicly known that Goldman Sachs's history in this industry has already involved big names, from the sale of Chelsea, which moved from Abramovich's management to American Todd Boehly, to the acquisition of Formula 1 by Liberty Media and even a minority stake in the American football team Tennessee Titans.

Earlier this year, in March, JPMorgan Chase announced the creation of a team focused on sports investments. This division within the banking sector will offer consultancy and financing solutions for investment in sports franchises, as well as infrastructure.

Like Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan also has a history in this sector, recently helping British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe acquire a minority stake in Manchester United.

According to a statement issued by the bank, the major sports franchises/clubs in Europe and the USA are valued at over $400 billion, a number that Wall Street cannot ignore, especially considering that the number of interested parties in investing and getting involved in this sector has been steadily increasing.

There are several reasons for the emergence of more and more investors in the sports context. From a financial point of view, despite the risk, which varies depending on factors such as the club chosen for investment and its project, there are several cases of substantial gains and appreciations, such as the example of the Dallas Mavericks, an NBA team that was purchased in 2000 by Mark Cuban for $285 million and was sold in 2023 for $3.55 billion, or Paris Saint-Germain, a French football club that after being acquired in 2011 by Qatari Sports Investments, reached in 2023 the top tier of revenue-generating clubs, with a total of €801.8 million, curiously, alongside Manchester City, an English club also acquired in 2008 by the Abu Dhabi United Group, through which it received a significant investment that changed the team's paradigm. Besides the financial product, investing in a sports club/franchise presents the opportunity to belong to something greater, to the day-to-day life of a club, to a year of competitions, to a community, to a social context. It's jumping from the press box to the stands, from the stands to the dressing room, crossing the tunnel to embrace the team on the field. There is a whole experience associated with this specific asset. Lastly, it can be a stage to gain influence. Still in football, the president of Paris Saint-Germain is proof of this, since leading the club, he has become an active voice in the context of the sport, also being the president of the European Club Association and a member of UEFA's Executive Committee.


Multi-club ownership is an investment trend that UEFA remains attentive to

A trend within the trend: much of the investment made in recent years comes from groups of owners of several clubs. Moreover, most of these investments come from the United States of America. These are two conclusions present in a UEFA report published in February 2024, which highlights and explores the growing popularity of "multi-club ownership" in the football economy, which is expected to have generated €26 billion for clubs in Europe.

According to the document, there are more than 300 football clubs belonging to these groups. Examples abound, from Red Bull, owner of Leipzig (Germany) and Salzburg (Austria), to the City Football Group, owner of 13 clubs, including Manchester City (England) and Girona (Spain), but there are also other less obvious cases for most of the public, such as Red Bird Capital Partners being the majority owner of AC Milan (Italy) and Toulouse (France), or Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens, owners of Aston Villa (England), also having a stake in Vitória Sport Clube (Portugal).

This seemingly unstoppable reality – which already extends to women's football, where Mercury 13 has a multi-club ownership project in that sense – is putting UEFA on alert for the "increased risk of two clubs with the same owner or investor facing each other in the same competition, creating potential integrity risks at the European level."

UEFA rules are clear: according to article 5 of the organization's regulations, dedicated to "competition integrity" and "multi-club ownership," "no one can be simultaneously involved, directly or indirectly, in any capacity, in the management, administration, and/or sports performance of more than one club participating in a UEFA club competition." However, this rule has not been an impediment, in recent seasons, to the participation of clubs owned by the same group.

In 2017/18, Salzburg and Leipzig, both owned by Red Bull, qualified for the Champions League. UEFA opened a process on the participation of both clubs in the competition, eventually approving it after considering that "important changes had been made in the structure and management (related to corporate issues, financing, personnel, sponsorship agreements, etc.)". Interestingly, in the following sports season, the two clubs found themselves in the same group of the Europa League, being forced to face each other.

In the summer of 2023, Aston Villa and Vitória Sport Clube, Brighton & Hove Albion and Royal Union Saint-Gilloise, and AC Milan and Toulouse saw similar processes being opened, with a similar solution being reached, with UEFA considering that the changes incorporated comply with article 5 of the regulation.

Today, the investment context is broad and diverse. There are stories for all tastes and outcomes, with millionaire protagonists, Hollywood stars, or former athletes. With Wall Street taking a step forward in this relationship with sport, assuming it and making it more serious, who might be next? How will clubs and competitions look at this new financial bridge? What new investors may emerge? How will UEFA deal with increasing pressure? Questions worth, literally, millions.