Florida financiers buy out European football teams

(Bloomberg) – European football property today is just as likely to be beaten in a Miami Beach steakhouse as it is in lavish restaurants in London, Milan or Paris.

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The Florida sun and pro-business policies have attracted financiers and entrepreneurs, including a group that invests money in the world’s favorite sport. Among them, John Textor, who has just finalized the takeover of 80% of Belgian club RWD Molenbeek via his sports investment vehicle Eagle Football LLC.

Paul Conway and Chien Lee, founders of Pacific Media Group LLC, Josh Wander, managing partner of 777 Partners LLC, and Randy Frankel, co-owner of the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team, are other avid football investors based in the south Florida.

“More and more professional investors have moved to South Florida and they love football,” Lee said in an interview. “Football is an attractive and good investment in the asset class.”

Conway, who meets his contacts to discuss the evolution of football at places in Miami Beach including celebrity favorite steak restaurant Prime 112 or nearby Joe’s Stone Crab, was also instrumental in the RWD Molenbeek deal. .

“He acted like a friend,” said Textor, a resident of Jupiter Island. “He’s a great resource and he even flew to Belgium with me to introduce me to the owners of the team.

Conway, Lee, and Textor champion the multiclub ownership model that has become increasingly popular as a way to grow game stars without the need for high transfer fees. Pacific Media has spent the last few years buying stakes in teams across Europe, while Textor has already invested in Crystal Palace FC of the British Premier League.

“Americans are going to own more and more European football,” Conway said. “A lot of things will go through a multiclub arrangement, where one club is in trouble, the others might be able to help.”

There are around 60 multiclub groups around the world, nearly two-thirds of which have emerged since 2018, according to the International Center for Sports Studies (CIES). Supporters of the strategy point to cost synergies and the possibility of securing more lucrative sponsorship deals. Critics, including the supporter organization Supporters Direct Europe, say this stifles competition and creates nurturing teams with little prospect of success.

Here’s a look at the top US investors who buy European football.

John Textor, Founder of Eagle Football LLC

Nicknamed “virtual reality guru” by Forbes magazine in 2016, Textor is managing director of digital likeness and human animation company Facebank Inc. He rose to prominence in the world of European football in 2021 by taking a participation in Crystal Palace.

The South London team is slowly carving out a reputation for exciting football under the leadership of Frenchman Patrick Vieira, the former World Cup winner installed last summer, and could now benefit from the talent developed at RWD Molenbeek .

“If you want to pursue a multiclub strategy, you need to have a global footprint for identifying talent from a market respected by the UK,” Textor said. “There is a very high level of play in Belgium, which is only two hours from London.”

Named in part for the club emblem of Crystal Palace, Textor’s Eagle vehicle is also in talks to buy a minority stake in Portuguese football giant SL Benfica in Lisbon, Textor said. Outside of Europe, Eagle now owns 90% of Botafogo in Brazil through a $ 330 million deal reached this week, he said.

Paul Conway and Chien Lee, co-founders of Pacific Media Group

Pacific Media’s football team includes stakes in AS Nancy in France, Barnsley FC in the UK, Danish Esbjerg fB, FC Thun in Switzerland and KV Oostende in Belgium.

A former banker of Oppenheimer & Co., Conway advocates the high-pressing style that has become popular in top European leagues. Ensuring a common approach to the game in this way means that it is easy to move players to your clubs if and when the need arises.

Its teams rely heavily on data analysis when recruiting and developing young talent. Billy Beane, the former American baseball player who pioneered a similar model when he ran Oakland Athletics in California – a story later told in Michael Lewis’s 2003 book “Moneyball” – was an investor in Barnsley, according to Conway.

Barnsley qualified for the Championship play-offs last season, bringing them a touching distance from the lucrative Premier League. They failed in that attempt and are now fighting to avoid relegation from the second tier of English football. Nancy and Ostend also struggled, both in the bottom half of their respective standings in France and Belgium.

Conway is patient. “There are ups and downs throughout every season,” he said. “Our goal is to develop a club in a sustainable way, while being a good guardian for the local community. “

Josh Wander, co-founder of 777 Partners

Wander’s 777 has built a portfolio of sports assets that includes streaming services and investments in UK basketball. The company is targeting dumped businesses with strong connections to fan bases, according to its website, and for soccer betting, Wander has so far chosen two of Europe’s most historic clubs.

In September, 777 acquired ownership of Italy’s oldest soccer team, Genoa Cricket and Football Club, commonly known as Genoa. He already had a minority stake in Sevilla FC, one of the most successful teams in Spain.

Wander knows Conway and Jim Pallotta, the former owner of Italian football club AS Roma, from living in Miami. He said he had several conversations about buying more football teams in Europe and elsewhere.

“Having smart, honest people investing in football on a global scale is good for the leagues,” he said.

Although Ukrainian football legend Andriy Shevchenko was named Genoa coach last year, the team have only won one game in the current league campaign and risk being relegated from Serie A to the top. end of the season.

Randy Frankel, Josh Harris

Frankel, a Miami resident, got into European football through investments alongside Conway. Through Partners Path Capital, led by former Tampa Bay Rays executive Michael Kalt, Frankel has been involved in deals with Pacific Media, including Nancy and Oostende.

“Right now we and Pacific Media are good partners,” he said. Frankel, a former student of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., who ‘has no shortage’ of people wanting to team up for more European football deals, also likes the multiclub model, which he says allows an investor to learn things from different countries and their peoples.

Josh Harris, co-founder of private equity giant Apollo Global Management Inc., bought a $ 32 million Miami mansion last year. Like Textor, he sits on the Board of Directors of Crystal Palace. Harris spent three decades at Apollo in 2021 after missing the company’s top job. He is a co-founder of Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, which he runs with Blackstone Inc. negotiator David Blitzer, who also has a significant interest in Crystal Palace.

(Adds interest in David Blitzer’s Crystal Palace in last paragraph. An earlier version of this story corrected Billy Beane’s bond with Barnsley.)

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Mary I. Bruner