SBD/November 6, 2012/Franchises

Grizzlies' New Ownership Group A Blend Of Local And Out-Of-Town Flavor

Pera (c) leads an ownership group that meshes local and out-of-town partners
The city of Memphis yesterday had its “first opportunity to see if it would be sold” on the Grizzlies' new ownership group when Chair Robert Pera and CEO Jason Levien “unveiled the members in front of an audience in the FedExForum's lobby as part of Pera's introductory news conference,” according to a front-page piece by Kyle Veazey of the Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL. It is a “big group, with some 24 individuals or entities,” including “lifelong Memphians and those who may never have stepped foot in our city.” Pera’s ownership percentage is “known to be less than 50 percent, though Pera would not confirm the exact percentage.” Levien said that Pera will be “first in line to cover the team's operating losses, should they occur.” A source said that Pera’s ownership deal “includes $125 million in financing through the NBA's credit line and $50 million in financing through a bank.” Veazey notes L.A.-based Oaktree Capital Management Principal Steve Kaplan “has the title of vice chairman.” Kaplan “envisions his role as being a supporter of the team and one who brings his private equity background to help manage the team better.” He “would not say how much he owns, other than to say it is ‘significant.’” Veazey notes two other "non-Memphians stand out: Barry Klarberg and Michael Savit.” Klarberg “managed the business” of music group *NSync. Former band member Justin Timberlake is also an investor. Meanwhile, Savit has owned “several minor league sports teams and currently owns” the NBA D-League franchise in Springfield, Mass. In terms of local ownership, some of the same investors who were with former Owner Michael Heisley “remain a part of the team.” That includes AutoZone Founder J. R. "Pitt" Hyde and Southeastern Asset Management Founder Staley Cates. Also “confirmed to be involved” are investment firm founder Duncan Williams and financial services exec Edward Dobbs. Another investor, Ashley Manning, wife of Broncos QB Peyton Manning, “wasn’t at Monday’s announcement.” Levien said that he “had not met her yet.” He joked, “I met her lesser-known husband” (Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL, 11/6).

GRIZZLIES OWNERSHIP GROUP
Chair Robert Pera CEO Jason Levien
Vice Chair Steve Kaplan Staley Cates
Pace Cooper Edward Dobbs
Steve Ehrhart Harold Ford Jr.
Al Gossett The Hand Family
Anfernee Hardaway Paul Harless
J.R. "Pitt" Hyde Barry Klarberg
Ashley Manning Joseph Nicosia
Billy Ogrel Elliott Perry
Bill Rhodes Michael Savit
Justin Timberlake Mike Wharton
Duncan Williams Kemmons and Spence Wilson

SHARING A VISION: Pera and Levien yesterday “answered some of the most important questions about their approach to running the franchise.” Levien said of the structure on the business side, “I'll be the CEO and managing partner for the ownership group. We'll have someone leading the business side and someone leading the basketball side.” On whether the franchise can do better financially than under Heisley, Levien said, “If we didn't think so, we wouldn't be here. … Our belief and hypothesis is that, yes, we can get more people in the building, we can get more sponsors, we can engage more local business to want to be a part of this, and that's going to reap big benefits for us” (Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL, 11/6).

GOOD START
: In Memphis, Geoff Calkins writes Pera came off “as earnest and genuine” yesterday, and he sounded “grateful, as much as anything else.” Still, there is “work yet to be done,” as the Grizzlies “didn't sell out Monday's game, to take one example.” Pera and Levien “have to prove they can actually run a team.” But last night’s game “was dazzling, for openers” (Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL, 11/6). A Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL editorial states Pera “may live in San Jose, Calif., and Taiwan and call himself a ‘citizen of the world,’ but he's a quick study of the city the Grizzlies have called home since 2001.” Through his “first words and early actions, he clearly understands the Grizzlies' place in Memphis culture, not just as a basketball team but as a civic rallying point.” Now Pera is “officially the boss, and saying the sort of things that should put Memphians at ease.” This is a “civic institution, with the potential to make major positive changes in the community.” Pera “seems to grasp this fact -- and even better, to embrace it” (Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL, 11/6).
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Franchises, NBA, Memphis Grizzlies

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