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Volume 21 No. 34
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Plugged In: Brent Lawrence, Accelerate Sports

Prior to founding boutique investment bank Accelerate Sports in October, Brent Lawrence spent 20 years as a mergers and acquisitions attorney. Accelerate Sports aims to specialize in sports M&A, with a focus on teams, technology and other sports-related businesses. Among its first projects, Lawrence said, is helping a lower-tier soccer franchise in its efforts to become an MLS club. He talks here about MLS and about other developing trends he sees across the industry.

Time has proven that the scarcity, energy and ‘coolness’ of team ownership will continue to drive valuations up indefinitely.

Team valuations in pro sports: We had the worst economic crisis in the modern era from 2008 to 2012, yet, on the average, franchise valuations continued to increase, although at lower rates than in prior years. Now that the economy is on a positive upswing, more people have disposable income to spend on entertainment, so the television rights deals continue to grow hand in hand with team valuations. There’s essentially inelastic demand for teams, and that’s not going to change in our lifetimes.

Technology and sports: Talk about a revolution. In the last 10 years, technology and sports have literally converged. This convergence and the enhanced interactivity and connectivity that technology has given us to the games, the players and our social networks will only continue to explode. While at times it can divert our focus away from the action on the playing surface, technology is the catalyst for sports to reach a much broader audience.

MLS’s plan to expand to 24 clubs by 2020: Soccer is here, America, and it’s just going to continue to grow at an incredible rate in the next 10 to 20 years. Considering the growth of the other major leagues in the past 25 years, the outlook for MLS is very promising because it will continue to meet a growing demand for “American” soccer. The leadership team at MLS is exceptional and they’re doing all the right things.

The case for publicly funded facilities: Often the biggest challenge in developing a new arena or stadium is the resistance from the non-sports enthusiasts in a given city with the opinion that the city should not participate in helping “billionaire” owners make more money. This continues to baffle me. Recent history has shown us in L.A., San Diego, San Francisco, Denver and numerous other cities how a new facility economically invigorates the downtown urban core. These new facilities have created more jobs, tourism, public transportation, sales tax revenue and other benefits that other investments simply cannot create. If all stakeholders take a proactive “win-win” approach towards growth, every city considering an investment in a new facility can find a way to make it work.

— Christopher Botta