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Volume 23 No. 8
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Brooklyn Nets valued at $1 billion

Highest price ever set for NBA team

The value of sports teams continues to skyrocket.

While a billion-dollar figure speculatively swirls around a possible Los Angeles Clippers sale, an investment bank is now in the market with a $1 billion valuation on the Brooklyn Nets.

Forest City Enterprises, the real estate developer that controls 20 percent of the Nets, is shopping its stake in the franchise and has valued the team at the $1 billion figure.

The Nets’ deal with YES expires in 2016; renewal talks are underway.
That mark is far and away the highest price ever set for an NBA team and comes amid rapidly escalating expectations for what basketball clubs are worth.

A surging media-rights fee landscape, extended labor peace and a growing international business are combining to fuel a perfect storm for NBA franchise prices, sending them into the same vicinity as those enjoyed in the NFL.

“We feel so confident on the billion … because every team will benefit from the new national TV deal,” said Lyle Ayes, managing director of Evercore Partners, which Forest City hired to sell the 20 percent position. Market observers expect the NBA to double its rights fee from national media with new deals after the current national agreements with ESPN and Turner Sports expire in 2015. Ayes also cites the Nets’ local TV deal with YES Network as a factor in the valuation. That deal pays the Nets around $20 million annually, a relatively low figure for a team in the country’s largest market. By comparison, the Los Angeles Lakers, who share the nation’s second-largest media market with the Clippers, are expected to receive an average of $200 million annually from Time Warner Cable SportsNet through 2032 under terms of their local broadcast deal.

The Nets/YES Network deal does not expire until 2016, but the two sides have begun negotiating a new agreement.

The surprising valuation placed on the Nets —  an assessment made solely on the team and not including its Barclays Center home — adds to a growing list of story lines featuring NBA clubs and surging franchise values. In addition to the talk surrounding the Clippers, just three weeks ago, the Milwaukee Bucks, a team that plays in an outdated arena and in a modest market, raised eyebrows with a $550 million sale agreement, the most ever for majority control of a club. Last year, new Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé valued the Golden State Warriors at $850 million as part of the sale of his stake in that team, sources said.

Now, Evercore hopes to top the $1 billion mark with the minority investment and full valuation around the Nets.

Forest City owner Bruce Ratner bought control of the Nets in 2003 in a $300 million deal. He subsequently sold the controlling interest to current Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov but maintained the share now on the market.

There are some caution flags in the current sale, however. The Nets spend well above of the NBA’s salary cap, incurring a huge luxury tax payment that reddens the balance sheet. According to Forest City’s most recent earnings report, the real estate developer lost $2.8 million on the Nets in the 11 months ending Dec. 31, 2013. That $2.8 million translates for the team to a loss of $23.33 million, based on a 12 percent ownership share for Forest City. (The other 8 percent that Forest City is selling is owned by limited partners who are forced to sell if the developer requires them to do so.)

Another possible downside: Prokhorov as lead owner. The Russian oligarch has shown no hesitation to deficit spend, meaning whoever owns the 20 percent stake is liable for that share of the loss.

Forest City paid Prokhorov a fee to avoid capital calls through July 2015, according to the developer’s annual report, so the purchaser of the stake would apparently enjoy one capital-call free season, in 2014-15.

Evercore is approaching about 20 potential purchasers rather than conducting an auction. The team carries about $200 million of debt. As a result, a buyer needs $160 million of equity to fund the purchase of the 20 percent stake if Evercore gets its targeted price.

One unspoken allure of the stake is it could position the buyer favorably if Prokhorov is ever forced to sell because of the geopolitical issues surrounding Russia’s relationship with the United States. Already earlier this year the NBA had to respond to reports Prokhorov wanted to domicile the team as a corporation in Russia. The NBA would not allow that.

As for Barclays Center, Forest City owns 55 percent of the arena. The company has not said if it intends to do anything with that ownership. Prokhorov owns the remaining 45 percent.

Prokhorov purchased his 80 percent stake in the Nets in 2010 as part of a $223 million deal that valued the Nets at less than $300 million. Now four years later, with labor peace at hand and escalating TV rights, franchise values are popping. Not only could the Clippers fetch $1 billion if the team is forced from the hands of owner Donald Sterling, but Evercore’s Ayes said that if he were selling full control of the Nets, their valuation would have ascended to $1.2 billion.