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Volume 25 No. 48
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Increasing Franchise Sales Prices Good, But Team Ownership About More Than Profits

The owners of the NHL Panthers and Bucks agreed that the high price that several pro sports teams have sold for recently is a good thing, but owning a franchise is much more than a venture geared towards earning a profit. Speaking at SBJ/SBD’s inaugural Dealmakers in Sports conference, Bucks co-Owner Marc Lasry said, “I love reading about teams selling for more than what they paid for.” But he added, “There’s nothing you’re going to do about it. You all want to know that what you did is working out, but we’re not going to turn around and sell it.” Added Panthers Owner Vinnie Viola: “You don’t really own a team; you’re steward of the team. You really represent the values of the community and try to project that. ... They are legacy investments.” Lasry and Viola were one-time investors in the Nets at the same time. Viola eventually bought the Panthers in ’13, while Lasry in ’14 joined the Bucks. Lasry said, “When you buy a team, the first thing you say is ‘I want to make money.’ And then you quickly realize, ‘Okay, well that’s not going to work.’” He added, “In business, you would do things to save money, or to make more money. Here, it’s totally different. You can’t focus on it from a business standpoint. It is very odd to end up having a business where you lose money.” Viola said, “What drives this is the owner surrendering to the culture that they think they are forming. And then everything else feeds around winning. The correlation between winning and economic or business results is greater than one.”

BUILDING FAST: Both owners discussed the recent movement among sports franchises to build new venues, starting with Lasry, whose Bucks will open their new $550M arena next year. He said, “From a business standpoint, everybody’s going out of their way to help. So we ended up having all these great ideas from every single arena that had been built. What you try to do is take the best ideas and build on that.” Viola added, “Most teams will share best practices around marketing, dynamic ticket pricing, sports physiology. It’s a very efficient market.” But Lasry noted the Bucks’ yet-to-be named facility will only be the newest NBA building for a few years, until the Warriors open Chase Center in ’20. To that point, Viola said, “The lifespan of these sport venues is less and less. These venues get old really quick.” But he added, “They’re investments that compel.”

Quick Hits:
* Lasry, on making a profit in the NBA: “The only way teams in the NBA really make money is you’ve got to have people come to games and you’ve got to get into the playoffs and you’ve got to win. And as you win, you end up making more money. But everybody’s trying to do that, and there’s really only four teams that get there.”

* Viola, on hockey in a non-traditional market: “I’d really like to work out hockey in South Florida, such that it’s economically sustainable.”

* Lasry, on the off-court implications of the Bucks’ new arena: “What we’re really trying to do is transform downtown and make it a destination place.”