MSG to Spin-Off Sports Franchises


Madison Square Garden Co. has filed with the SEC to spin-off its professional sports franchises into a new publicly traded company, with its live entertainment remaining under the MSG ticker. The division of assets (expected to be completed in H1 ’19) will “enable investors to more clearly evaluate each company’s assets and future potential, while providing both companies with increased strategic flexibility.” The filing reiterated the company does not intend on selling either of its marquee sports franchises (see: Knicks, Rangers), though it plans on unloading the WNBA’s New York Liberty.

Howie Long-Short: We’ve been waiting for this shoe to drop since the rumors first started flying in June. Upon the deal closing, MSG will consist of Madison Square Garden Arena, the Hulu Theatre at Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, Beacon Theatre, the Chicago Theatre, the Wang Theatre, the L.A. Forum, the Radio City Rockettes and the Christmas Spectacular, MSG’s booking business (think: college basketball, boxing), their majority stakes in Tao Group (62.5%) and Boston Calling (a festival/concert promoter), the company’s JVs (Azoff-MSG Entertainment and Tribeca Enterprises) and the planned Sphere projects in Las Vegas and London. “New” MSG will own 1/3 of the shares in the newly formed sports company and will retain $1 billion in cash. Legacy shareholders will control 2/3 of MSG Sports. Shares declined -3% on the news, closing at $300.62 on Friday 10.5.18.

In August, the company reported the percentage of revenue generated by its sports teams had dropped from 60% (last 3 years) to 50% in fiscal 2018, indicating Dolan’s diversification plan is working. MSG shares are up +42.5% YTD.

Fan Marino: The newly traded public company will be comprised of the New York Knicks (and their G-League affiliate the Westchester Knicks), the New York Rangers (and their AHL affiliate the Hartford Wolf Pack), their majority stake in Counter Logic Gaming, Knicks Gaming and a training facility in Greenburgh, NY. Dolan intends on running both companies, so fans shouldn’t expect many (if any) changes to team operations.

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With Stadium Project Approval Secured, Seattle Close to Landing an NHL Franchise


The Seattle city council unanimously approved a $700 million renovation to KeyArena, paving the way for an NHL expansion franchise to call the Emerald City home. With approval for the arena’s redevelopment secured, the David Bonderman/Jerry Bruckheimer Group will present their bid for the league’s 32nd franchise, to its executive committee, next week (10.2.18); approval is expected, though a formal vote won’t occur before December. The Bonderman/Bruckheimer group, which would like to begin construction within 60 days, is targeting ’20-’21 as the club’s inaugural season; though ’21-’22 may be more realistic, with a player lockout pending in ‘20.

Howie Long-Short: KeyArena was the home of the Seattle SuperSonics. It was Howard Schultz’s inability to secure $220 million in tax-payer funded upgrades for the building, that led to the team’s sale (to Clay Bennett) and ultimately its relocation to Oklahoma City.

The Seattle Center arena renovation project will be privately financed and developed by the Oak View Group, which isn’t content with placing an NHL franchise in the building; they plan to bring the NBA back to Seattle too (Councilwoman Sally Bagshaw said she expects the city to have an NBA franchise by 2020). The reigning WNBA champions (Storm), who also call KeyArena home, will play at the University of Washington while the building is being revamped.

Led by Tim Lieweke, Oak View Group (an entertainment & sports facilities company) is backed by Azoff MSG Entertainment; a JV between Irving Azoff’s management firm and MSG. Earlier this year, the company received a $100 million cash infusion from the P.E. firm Silver Lake for an undisclosed stake in the company; capital Oak View Group is using to fund its “massive growth spurt”.

There are 2 other ways to play the Seattle Center arena project, Skanska (a Swedish multinational construction/development co.) and AECOM Hunt (an American multinational engineering/design/construction firm) have been hired to oversee the project. Skanska trades on the Copenhagen Stock exchange under the symbol (CPH: SKA B) or OTC under the symbol SKSBF. AECOM Hunt (a subsidiary of AECOM, component of S&P 400) trades on the NYSE under the symbol ACM.

Fan Marino: It’s been more than 10 years since the Sonics played their last home game at KeyArena and while Seattle sports fans remain starved for an NBA franchise, they’re more than prepared to support hockey in the Pacific NW; the Bonderman/Bruckheimer Group received more than 33,000 deposits (at $500 or $1,000) for season ticket packages the day they went on sale.

While on the topic of Seattle sporting venues, it’s been announced that the town’s baseball team will remain in Safeco Field for another couple of decades (their initial 20-year lease was set to expire at the end of this season). Back in May, the Mariners reached a deal with the Washington State Major League Baseball Stadium Public Facilities District on a new 25-year lease, with two 3-year options, that could keep the club in stadium through the 2049 season. The M’s will invest +/- $650 million into the ballpark and public facilities district over the course of the lease agreement (see: rent, stadium improvements, maintenance/operations, taxes, revenue sharing and a neighborhood improvement fund).

Fun Fact: Did you know that Seattle is currently the largest U.S. market without a winter pro sports franchise?

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Comcast Preparing to Divest 22 Fox RSNs, To Submit 2nd All-Cash Bid by July 27th  


Comcast (CMCSA) is reportedly lining up buyers for 21st Century Fox’s (FOXA) regional sports networks to alleviate anti-trust concerns, as it prepares a bid that would be favorable to The Walt Disney Company’s (DIS) $71 billion dollar offer (cash and stock) for FOXA film & TV assets. CMCSA is open to divesting all 22 RSNs, but believes just 8 overlap with the existing Comcast sports footprint. Reuters is reporting that the company has held conversations with publicly-traded buyout firms Apollo Global Management (APO) and Blackstone Group (BX). Just 2 weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Justice approved DIS’ bid after reaching a settlement with the mouse house to rid itself of the regional sports networks.

Howie Long-Short: It’s been assumed that the RSNs will fetch $20 billion+ (Comcast’s first bid placed a $24 billion valuation on them), so selling them off will help Comcast coffers as the company prepares to submit a 2nd all-cash bid (no dollar amounts given). FOXA shareholders are scheduled to vote on the DIS bid on July 27th, Comcast will submit their bid prior.

Rumors of P.E. firms taking down the RSNs is relatively surprising as most of the discussions surrounding potential landing spots having focused on telecom and media companies. Everyone from Amazon (AMZN) and YouTube (GOOGL) to AT&T (T) and Dish Network (DISH) has been mentioned.

I asked T.K. Gore, sports media consultant, advisor and professor, for his thoughts on who lands the RSNs?

T.K.: The RSN world is a tricky business and experience — coupled with deep pockets — matters. Look for groups like Liberty Media and AT&T to get involved given their experiences.

MSG is among the companies that has been associated with having interest in the regional networks. James Dolan has said that he’d be interested in acquiring the assets “at the right price”, noting they’re highly profitable now but a “slow, declining revenue stream.”

Fan Marino: The 22 RSNs collectively control exclusive broadcast rights to 44 NFL, NBA, MLB & NHL franchises, including teams in Detroit, Southern California, Dallas, Cleveland and Miami. The YES Network is the most valuable of the lot, worth an estimated $4 billion; the Yankees are likely to re-acquire that network.

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MSG Considering Spinning Off Sports Teams, Shares Hit All-Time High


Madison Square Garden (MSG) is considering a tax-free spinoff of the Knicks, Rangers and other pro sports franchises (to be known as MSG Sports) from Madison Square Garden Arena, Radio City Music Hall and the balance of their concert-hosting and entertainment-venue operations. The proposed plan would give legacy shareholders 66% of MSG Sports. MSG would retain the remaining 33%. No timetable has been issued for the board to issue a decision. MSG shares hit an all-time high on Thursday, closing at $303.29.

Howie Long-Short: Should a split occur, MSG Sports would include the Knicks, Rangers, Westchester Knicks (G-League), Hartford Wolf Pack (AHL) and the Liberty (WNBA), though the team has been exploring a sale for that franchise on and off since November. The newly-formed entity would also include Knicks Gaming (NBA 2K League) and Counter Logic Gaming (esports).

MSG would hold on to Madison Square Garden and the Hulu Theatre, Radio City Music Hall, Beacon Theatre, the Forum in Inglewood, the Chicago Theatre and the Wang Theatre (Boston). The company’s hospitality group, a music festival producer, interests in Oak View Group development projects, stake in Tao Group (62.5%) and $1 billion in cash would also remain under the MSG umbrella.

JWS wrote about the need for a potential spinoff back in October and we again discussed how MSG’s market cap was lower than Forbes value of just the Knicks and Rangers in February; so, we’re on board with a spinoff that would bring full value of company’s assets to shareholders. We noted in October that there was speculation a spinoff could increase the value of the company by upwards of +25%; reports of the potential plan occurred on Wednesday evening, shares have skyrocketed +13.9% since.

Fan Marino: Sorry Knicks Fans, a spinoff doesn’t mean that James Dolan would finally relinquish control of the struggling NBA franchise; Dolan intends on serving as executive chairman and CEO of both companies.

Knicks fan looking for some good news? Kentucky HC John Calipari believes 1st round selection Kevin Knox is the league’s next Jason Tatum; “a tough, a skilled, long, tough player who’s a future All-Star.

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Wenn Digital, Oak View Group Introduce Sports Photography Digital Rights Management Platform


Wenn Digital and Oak View Group have partnered to bring the Image (and video) Rights Management Platform KODAKOne and its associated cryptocurrency KODAKCOIN to six U.S. sporting venues. Built on blockchain technology, the to-be launched KODAKOne platform will enable fans (+ professional photographers, teams and venues) attending games at those venues to “upload, register and share their work, as well as be compensated for it.” KODAKCoin can be used as a payment for licensing or sale and together Wenn Digital and the six Oak View Group venues will work to build a platform that facilitates in-venue cryptocurrency transactions.

Howie Long-Short: Protecting live event photography rights is a real problem. Photographers have long struggled to prove ownership of their work, have experienced copyright violations and have had difficulties collecting royalties, so KODAKOne looks to be a practical application of blockchain technology within the sports world.

Wenn Digital, which operates the KODAKOne platform and KODAKCoin cryptocurrency, licensed the KODAK brand name for the digital rights management platform and associated token. It’s been reported that KODAK will receive up to $5 million (including $750,000 in cash and $1.5 million in Wenn Digital common stock) for use of their name. On May 21st, having already closed on $10 million in pre-sale investment capital, Wenn Digital launched a Simple Agreement for Future Tokens (due to securities laws) to raise the balance of a $50 million round. As for KODAK (KODK), when the company announced it was pivoting to blockchain back in January, shares rose 272% (peaking at $11.55); though the initial excitement has since been replaced with doubt, shares are up +68% YTD ($5.20).

Back in March, private equity firm Silver Lake Partners invested $100 million in Oak View Group, the entertainment and sports facilities company founded by Irving Azoff/Tim Leiweke. Currently 27 stadiums and arenas use Oak View Group for booking, sponsorship or security services; though Leiweke envisions adding 6-8 more before the end of 2018 (so, there’s plenty of room for KODAKOne to grow with the company). The company acknowledges it’s “going through a massive growth spurt”, but insists it’s with good reason; the NFL, NBA and NHL are “at their healthiest levels ever” and concerts have become increasingly profitable. You can play KODAKOne through Madison Square Garden Company (MSG). Azoff MSG entertainment, a joint venture between Irving Azoff’s management firm and MSGhas invested in Oak View Group.

Fan Marino: For those wondering, AT&T Center (Spurs), Bankers Life Fieldhouse (Pacers), Golden 1 Center (Kings), Talking Stick Resort Arena (Suns), Xcel Energy Center (Wild) and Prudential Center (Devils) are the six venues that KODAKOne plans to launch with.

In other in-stadium news, the NBA has partnered with 15 Seconds of Fame (15SOF) to bring fans in all 29 NBA cities video of their videoboard/live TV appearances while at games. Using facial recognition software, the application identifies the fan and sends them video of the moment. 15SOF is a great idea, but the execution has been terrible. Fans don’t care about the content of the video (waving, dancing etc.), they want video showing their appearance on the jumbotron. In other words, 15SOF should be sending fans wide angle video that reflects the stadium’s atmosphere at that moment, as opposed to the video they’re currently pulling out of context. Kobe Bryant has invested in 15SOF, but there are no ways for our readers to.

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A.S. Roma Sign’s Massive Shirt Sponsorship Deal, Share Price Drops with Semi-Final Leg 1 Loss


A.S. Roma has announced the largest sponsorship deal in club history, a 3-year pact (begins in ’18-’19) that will make Qatar Airways the club’s official shirt sponsor through the ’20-’21 season. The deal, worth $48.7 million/season (or +/- 2.5x the NBA’s most valuable patch partnership), is among the largest ever signed by an Italian futbol club. The logo of Qatar’s state-owned airline will “adorn the front of the first team’s shirts” and the company will serve as the top flight Italian soccer side’s “Main Global Partner.” Qatar Airways becomes just the 7th kit sponsor in the club’s 90-year history; the first team has played without a shirt sponsor since the ’14 season.

Howie Long-Short: Limited shares of A.S. Roma trade on the Borsa Italiana under the symbol ASR (OTC: ASRAF). Interestingly, the share price over the last 30 days has mirrored the first team’s success (or lack thereof) on the pitch. When the club stunned Barcelona (overcoming a 4-1 loss in Leg 1) on April 10th to advance to the Uefa Champions League semi-finals, the share price jumped 22% to $.73; by Tuesday morning it had risen to $.82. The team dropped the first leg of the semi-finals (to Liverpool, 5-2) on Tuesday afternoon and the share price began to dip in after-hours trading; by Wednesday’s close, shares were down -14.7% (to $.70) from Tuesday’s high.

While stock performance has little correlation with wins and losses in North America (see: MSG +48% since Oct. ’15, Knicks winning percentage over same span is .374, RCI hit a 5-year low during the Blue Jay’s first trip to the playoffs since ’93 in ‘15), it requires a closer look in Europe. Like Roma, MANU is having a strong season on the pitch ranked 2nd in the EPL standings; since the club’s August 12th EPL season opener, shares are up 14% (to $19.10). JohnWallStreet will take a deeper dive the correlation between on-field performance and the share price of publicly traded European clubs, in the coming weeks.

Fan Marino: ASR is playing in the Uefa Champions League semi-finals for the first time in 34 years, but the club is going to need a dominant performance (at least a 3-goal victory) on May 2nd (2nd leg), to qualify for the final. Of course, had the team not scored 2 late goals (they trailed 5-0 in Leg 1); all hope would have dissipated. For those wondering, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich are competing in the other semi-final; Real Madrid won the 1st leg 2-1 on Wednesday afternoon.

U.S. soccer fans will have a chance to catch A.S. Roma (+ Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich) live in action this summer. Beginning on July 20th, 18 of the world’s top club teams will compete in the 6th International Champions Cup presented by Heineken. The event’s 27 matches are spread across 3 continents (North America, Europe and Asia), with 17 on U.S. soil; Roma will play in East Rutherford (NJ), San Diego and Dallas. You can find full schedule and ticket info, here.

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Oak View Group Raises $100 Million to Pursue “Huge Bets”

Oak View Group

Private equity firm Silver Lake Partners has invested $100 million for an undisclosed minority stake in Oak View Group (OVG), the entertainment and sports facilities company founded by Irving Azoff/Tim Leiweke. Oak View Group, which develops venues and provides consulting services, raised the capital to pursue “huge bets” outside of sports (i.e. music venue in Austin) and to expand internationally (see: Europe, Asia). Currently 27 stadiums and arenas use OVG for booking, sponsorship or security services; though Leiweke envisions adding 6-8 more before the end of 2018. The company acknowledges it’s “going through a massive growth spurt”, but insists it’s with good reason; the NFL, NBA and NHL are “at their healthiest levels ever” and concerts have become increasingly profitable.

Howie Long-Short: Rumors indicate that Silver Lake Partners and Jim Dolan, the Chairman of MSG, are working on a plan that would enable Dolan to eventually buy Madison Square Garden (and perhaps the Knicks and/or Rangers). As the story goes, Silver Lake Partners learned of the investment opportunity in OVG from Jim Dolan, “indicating Silver Lake has been speaking to Dolan.” While I’m not sure how Josh Kosman at the NY Post made the leap between the parties “speaking” and Silver Lake helping Dolan take MSG private, the connection between the two is apparent. Silver Lake Partners has taken an activist position in MSG (6.3%), while Dolan/MSG backs OVG.

Fan Marino: Oak View Group won the rights to redevelop Seattle’s Key Arena (they’re fully financing the deal, no public funding), to house the city’s new NHL franchise (while not yet announced, relocation or expansion is inevitable). Seattle may not be known as a hockey town, but within a 36-hour period in early May, 33,000 people issued deposits ($500 or $1,000) for the rights to purchase season tickets to an unnamed franchise that does not yet exist. As for the team name, OVG filed trademarks on these 13 ideas; Cougars, Eagles, Emeralds, Evergreens, Firebirds, Kraken, Rainiers, Renegades, Sea Lions, Seals, Sockeyes, Totems and Whales. If the goal is to sell merchandise, Kraken must be the choice.

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MSG Building Glass Sphere Arenas, Market Cap Below Forbes’ Valuations of Knicks/Rangers


Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) (in a joint venture with Sands Corporation (LVS), who is contributing $75 million to project) has released renderings of a 360-foot-tall (500-foot-wide) glass sphere (MUST SEE), set to be built behind the Venetian and Palazzo resorts and expected to open in late 2020. The arena, connected to the resorts via a pedestrian bridge, will seat 18,000 and hold concerts, residencies, boxing/MMA and other entertainment events (like mass gaming). MSG is expected to announce plans for the construction of a 2nd sphere in London, noteworthy as the booking and marketing of London’s O2 Arena is controlled by AEG live; a direct competitor of Azoff-MSG. The two companies have a history of preventing acts from performing at the other’s venues.

Howie Long-Short: Forbes released their ’18 NBA team valuations. For the first time, every team was valued at more than $1 billion; with team values increasing by an average of 22% YOY. Over the last 5 years, team values have grown 300%. The potential for international growth (revenue growing in high-teens) has NBA teams selling at a higher multiple (8x revenue), than NFL teams (6x revenue). MSG’s NY Knicks are the NBA’s most valued franchise, worth an estimated $3.6 billion (+9% YOY, on $426 million in revenue). Forbes has the Rangers valued at $1.5 billion (+20%, on $246 million in revenue). MSG’s current market cap is $4.93 billion. If Forbes’ valuations are accurate (they tend to be low), the market is assigning literally negative value to MSG Arena (tax assessment in ’17 was $1.2 billion, not including air rights), the Forum, the Liberty, Counter Logic Gaming and a controlling stake in Tao Group.

Fan Marino: Back in November, MSG announced it would be selling its WNBA franchise to a buyer who would immediately take over control of the team’s operations. Apparently, plans have since changed, James Dolan has stated that despite “numerous interested parties” the company would continue to operate the team. The Liberty plan to move most of their games from Madison Square Garden to the 5,000-seat Westchester Arena (pending county approval), home to the Knick’s G-League affiliate. The move would save the franchise dollars, as the cost associated with holding events at the Garden are significantly higher.

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Sands Corp., MSG Building 2nd Las Vegas Arena, Concessions Sales Up 53% at Falcons New Stadium

Sands-Corp 200x200

Las Vegas Sands Corp. (LVS) has announced that their joint venture with the Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) to build an 18,500-seat arena in Las Vegas, is on track begin this summer. The new venue, to be built behind the Venetian and Palazzo properties (on Sands Ave. between Koval Ln. & Manhattan St.), is scheduled to be completed by the summer of 2020. The venue will reside less than 2 miles from T-Mobile Arena; a newly built 17,500-seat arena that opened in 2016 and the current home to the Golden Knights (NHL).

Howie Long-Short: Sands Corp. owns both the Venetian and Palazzo properties, so the location is logical. It seems excessive, but as Sands Corp. CEO Robert Goldstein explained, “the growth is returning around Las Vegas. The Golden Knights have done extraordinarily well, football is coming; why not?” Many would reason because there is no potential pro sports tenant to place in the building, but Las Vegas is unique in that shows (as opposed to teams) can anchor venues; so, despite the Oak View Group’s participation in this project, no promise exists to bring an NBA team to Sin City.

Fan Marino: Speaking of new sporting venues, the Atlanta Falcons offered the cheapest concession prices in the league ($2 hot dogs, water and pretzels) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium this past season and saw sales (not revenue, as reported elsewhere) increase 53% YOY. Fans came earlier, stayed longer and bought more (16% more per fan) to help offset the reduced markup. While the team didn’t generate as much from concessions as it did the year prior, the Falcons were at the top of the league in fan satisfaction for food and beverages. That’s enough for team owner Arthur Blank, who said “we believe that the direction we’ve taken, given all the other positive benefits, is the bigger revenue play.” No one leaves a sporting event feeling good that they paid $11 for a pretzel and a bottle of water; here’s to hoping the new arena in Vegas (and others around the country) follow Blank’s lead and begin to provide fans a better gameday experience.

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WSJ: Just 7 Ways to Publicly Invest in Sports, JWS: Not the Case


The WSJ published a recent story asserting there are few ways to directly invest in sports, a notion we dispute. The article deemed just 7 publicly traded equities to be sports-related and based their conclusion, that fans are better off watching and playing sports than investing in them, on the performance of 2 exchange traded funds; one of which (FANZ) has beat the S&P since its July ’17 inception, which would seem to counter to their argument. The article cites Matt Hougan, the CEO of Inside ETFs, and his belief that most of the economic value within sports (ownership and player contracts) “comes in private transactions”, to support the author’s thesis; but fails to pay consideration to the revenue streams that support those contracts (and generate ownership profits). It’s worth noting that JohnWallStreet follows over 100 sports-related equities.

Howie Long-Short: Sports teams generate revenue from 4 sources; broadcast rights, ticket sales, sponsorships and merchandising. Several publicly traded equities use a similar business model; Churchill Downs (CHDN), International Speedway (ISCA), Dover Motorsports (DVD) and Speedway Motorsports (TRK), and thus should also be included on the list. Others, like Acushnet Holdings Corp. (GOLF) and Callaway Golf Company (ELY), are undeniably directly tied to sports; and no one would claim your basket was unfocused if companies like Nike (NKE), Lululemon (LULU) and Fitbit (FIT) were to be included. Oh, and don’t forget Activision Blizzard’s (ATVI) new esports league (Overwatch); their inaugural season starts today.

Fan Marino: The story names the New York Knicks, New York Rangers (MSG), Atlanta Braves (BATRK), Manchester United (MANU) and Borussia Dortmund (BORUF) as the teams you can purchase equity in. The Toronto Blue Jays, Toronto Maple Leafs (RCI), Juventus F.C. (JVTSF), A.S. Roma (ASRAF) and SS Lazio (BIT: SSL) are also all publicly traded.

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