CHICAGO — Fenway Sports Group hopes to finalize the financial details of its purchase of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins by Monday.
And that’s only the start to the latest expansion phase of the Boston-based sports conglomerate that already has MLB (Red Sox), Premier League (Liverpool), and NASCAR (RFK Racing) franchises in its portfolio.
While more teams from the NFL, NBA, WNBA, MLS, NWSL, and European soccer are on FSG’s shopping list, other sports-associated industries — from sports betting, news and entertainment, and data analytics to esports and a new Nike line of Liverpool apparel featuring FSG’s most recognizable partner, LeBron James — are on it, too.
“I wouldn’t want to say that we’re going to buy an NFL team tomorrow,” said Fenway Sports Group chairman Tom Werner with a soft laugh Thursday as the MLB owners meetings here were breaking up. “We’re interested in expanding, and it doesn’t have to be that the only expansion is by acquiring a professional franchise.”
The $750 million cash injection it received from RedBird Capital Partners in March spurred FSG to launch its acquisition phase. The summer and fall were largely quiet until last month, when FSG joined RedBird, Nike, and Epic Games in a significant investment in SpringHill Company, the entertainment, marketing, and content company founded by James and fellow FSG partner Maverick Carter.
Part of SpringHill’s own growth strategy is to create content based on FSG’s properties such as the Red Sox and Liverpool, which in turn will enhance and enrich FSG’s brand and bottom line.
“SpringHill has a bunch of different businesses besides just telling stories and content,” said Werner, the second-largest shareholder at FSG, ahead of RedBird and behind John Henry, principal owner and also the owner of the Globe.
“They have a lot of relationships with Fortune 500 companies and they’re telling stories and helping companies like Walmart and Chase tell their stories. So, they’re not simply in the business of telling a story like the life of Muhammad Ali.
“We’re an investor in SpringHill along with Nike and RedBird and we just think they’ve got their pulse on a younger demo that is going to be very successful.”
Within FSG, James will take on an expanded role. One example is FSG’s upcoming Liverpool-Nike venture.
“We’re doing a product line with LeBron and Liverpool,” Werner said. “Nike is creating seven or eight products that connect LeBron with soccer. I don’t know specifics yet, but they’re going to create seven or eight products that rival the connection that Michael Jordan has with Nike.”
Before that marketing blitz begins, the Penguins acquisition will be in the spotlight.
Werner went to his phone to reference a tweet from sports business reporter Darren Rovell of the Action Network lauding the Penguins deal: “Fascinated by Fenway Sports Group’s acquisition of the Pittsburgh Penguins. For the first time in my life, I believe the NHL is the league in the four majors to own. Game speed matches pace of society, it’s why sport has seen huge pickup from young people.”
The Penguins-FSG deal still needs to be approved by the NHL and FSG’s own partners. The Jacobs family, which owns the Bruins, has given its unofficial blessing to the deal. The Jacobs family is already partners with FSG; the Bruins own 20 percent of NESN, with FSG owning the other 80 percent.
The pace of hockey appeals to Werner, a member of MLB’s competition committee that has been trying for some time to implement new rules that will create more action and shorten game times.
Until that happens, Werner and the rest of FSG’s ownership will soon be able to watch one of their own teams play a game that more closely mirrors the mostly hectic pace in all phases of life.
In the fast-spinning sports industry FSG is trying to chase the moment, if not stay ahead of it.
“It’s our belief that we can become a stronger and more diversified sports and media company by being involved in not just baseball and [soccer] but, in this case, hockey,” Werner said.
“I know we haven’t closed our deal — there’s a couple of sticking points, we hope to close it by Monday, I always believe there’s some unnecessary surprise at the end — but we believe in hockey.”