Fenway Sports Group’s ambitious growth plans took a major step forward Tuesday with the addition of two new partners, one a New York-based investment firm and the other one of the best known names in professional sports.
The parent company of the Red Sox and Liverpool Football Club approved a $750 million private investment that would make RedBird Capital Partners its third-largest partner, according to a source with knowledge of the deal. The partnership will infuse cash that can help launch FSG’s efforts to acquire more teams.
The other new FSG partner needs no introduction: LeBron James.
James, one of the most recognizable, influential, and richest athletes on the global stage, now owns an undisclosed amount of FSG shares after previously holding an approximately 2 percent share of the Liverpool soccer franchise since 2011.
By becoming a partner in FSG, the Los Angeles Lakers star also will become a part-owner of the Red Sox as well as other FSG subsidiaries, including NESN, Roush Fenway Racing, and Fenway Sports Management.
James’s potential to enhance the brand value of FSG properties is significant, and even more so given that RedBird’s investment will help give FSG the spending power it needs to expand its portfolio and begin adding to its list of properties.
The deal is contingent on Major League Baseball’s approval, which could take several weeks, the source said.
Also joining James as a new FSG partner is Maverick Carter, James’s longtime business partner and friend. Carter and James become the first Black partners in FSG’s history.
On FSG’s shopping wish list are NFL and NBA franchises, another European soccer club, NHL, MLS, WNBA, and NWSL teams, plus sports betting, esports, and data analytics companies.
The RedBird cash infusion will give the firm an 11 percent stake of FSG, which will have an enterprise value of approximately $7.35 billion. FSG will have $600 million-$700 million in debt, with more than $600 million cash going out to existing partners.
FSG principal owner John Henry (who also owns the Boston Globe) will retain control of the Boston-based sports conglomerate, with governance remaining unchanged among FSG chairman Tom Werner and FSG president Michael Gordon. Werner’s FSG stake remains second-largest, while Gordon’s shares will drop to fourth.
FSM, the consulting and marketing arm of FSG, has worked with James for more than a decade on assorted marketing and endorsement ventures.
Much of the RedBird Capital Partners investment will be earmarked for FSM, the latest signal that James is about to play a more prominent role in FSG operations. In the fall of 2019, FSG successfully switched Liverpool’s uniform sponsorship to Nike after ending a long relationship with Boston-based New Balance shoe and apparel company.
James is a Nike client and in 2015 inked a lifetime deal with the world’s leading shoe and sports apparel company believed to be in excess of $1 billion.
In the past year, FSG received an undisclosed investment from one of its newer partners, the Dallas-based Arctos Sports Partners.
According to the source, FSG views the RedBird investment as a first step in its pursuit of new acquisitions and partnerships.
Forbes’s most recent valuation of FSG placed it at $6.6 billion, good for a fourth-place spot on the sports empire list, one spot ahead of the Yankees’ parent company ($6.4 billion). At that valuation, FSG was behind Jerry Jones’s holdings (Dallas Cowboys plus real estate, hospitality service, esports) worth $6.98 billion, Kroenke Sports & Entertainment ($8.73 billion), owner of the Los Angeles Rams, Arsenal FC (Premier League), Denver Nuggets, and Colorado Avalanche, and Liberty Media ($13 billion), owner of Formula 1, Atlanta Braves, and the Drone Racing League.
FSG, then known as New England Sports Ventures, started with its $700 million purchase of the Red Sox in 2002. Forbes last valued the Red Sox at $3.3 billion.
FSG’s second significant splash came in 2010, when it snatched up Liverpool for $493 million soon after a global recession had left its previous owners cash-strapped.
KPMG recently valued Liverpool at $2.6 billion, which would mean James’s reported initial 2 percent investment of $6.5 million has grown to some $52 million.
RedBird Capital is led by investor Gerry Cardinale.
Last fall, Cardinale and Billy Beane, the Oakland A’s executive of “Moneyball” fame, launched RedBall Acquisition Corp., a special purpose acquisition company that seeks a company to invest in and take public, that reportedly had its eyes on a $1.5 billion investment in FSG that would have taken FSG public at a valuation worth more than $8 billion.
The RedBall-FSG public-company gambit did not work out after FSG decided to remain a private company when the SPAC met price resistance from public investors.
Still of the belief that they shared similar visions of growth opportunities in the sports industry, FSG and Cardinale, who also sits on the boards of both the Yankees’ parent company and their YES network, switched to a private tack that led to the current investment.
According to SEC filings last year, one of Fenway Sports Group’s limited partners, Seth Klarman, and his Baupost Group hedge fund recently invested $52 million in RedBall.
Last July, Cardinale and RedBird purchased 85 percent of the French second-division Toulouse FC soccer team. Cardinale has spoken since of the multiple investment opportunities to be found in European soccer leagues.
Michael Silverman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.