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Monday, July 22, 2024
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Celtics’ Sale Listing Sparks Transition Questions: Here’s What We Know

  • The forthcoming NBA team sale is expected to set a league record, while presenting new questions
  • The elongated transition period contemplated in the deal could present complications.
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Talk about an ownership mic drop. 

Celtics majority owner Wyc Grousbeck and his partners have officially put the defending NBA champions up for sale, just two weeks after the team won a league-leading 18th title. Grousbeck previously gave no indications such a move would be coming, saying at the team’s June 21 championship parade that “it feels like we’ve got more to do.”

But the massive turn in events—said by the owners to be for “estate and family planning considerations”— sets up several other major events yet to unfold:

  • The Celtics deal will almost certainly set an NBA record for a team sale. The Suns sold in full last year at a $4 billion valuation to Mat Ishbia, while a minority interest in the Nets parent BSE Global recently changed hands at a $6 billion valuation. The Celtics could certainly beat both figures. Estimated to be worth $4.7 billion before this latest title, the Celtics hitting the market carries plenty of extra luster not only because of the recent championship, but also the historic allure of the team. It’s as if MLB’s Yankees, NBA’s Lakers, or the NFL’s Cowboys were being sold—something that hasn’t happened with those teams since 1973, ‘79, and ’89, respectively. 
  • The transition period could be tricky. Grousbeck and his partners intend to sell a majority interest in the club either later this year or in early 2025. But Grousbeck himself “expects” to remain as Celtics governor, acting as the team’s key figure and decision maker, until ’28. That elongated period recalls the multi-year transition for the Timberwolves that is now the subject of both formal arbitration and considerable acrimony between that teams’ owners. 
  • Both the current Celtics ownership group and the next one are facing big luxury tax bills. Already facing a NBA luxury tax bill of about $40 million for this past season, future years will likely be similar as forward Jayson Tatum is finalizing a supermax contract extension that would reportedly pay him $314 million over five years, helping to keep the Celtics well above the luxury tax threshold. Combined with teammate Jaylen Brown’s five-year, $304 million deal signed last summer, setting a league record, the pair could be set to receive $480 million between 2025 and ’29.
  • There will be relatively few fully attached assets in this deal. The team’s home arena, TD Garden, is owned by Delaware North, the parent company of the NHL’s Bruins, while the Celtics have only a minority interest in its regional sports network, NBC Sports Boston. The Celtics’ elaborate nine-year-old practice facility, the Auerbach Center, is part of the larger, Boston Landing mixed-use development controlled by New Balance. 
  • It’s a big change for a very stable and successful group of Boston pro team owners. No major local men’s pro team has been sold since 2002, when Grousbeck and his partners purchased the Celtics for $360 million, and what is now Fenway Sports Group acquired the Red Sox. The NFL’s Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins have gone on to combine for 13 league titles this century. 
  • FSG has a major decision to make. The multisport ownership group that also includes the Premier League’s Liverpool, NHL’s Penguins, and golf’s Strategic Sports Group, among other holdings, could be a potential suitor, and FSG principal owner John Henry has an existing relationship with Grousbeck. But pursuing the Celtics would mean abandoning existing NBA aspirations, several years in development, tied to a potential expansion team in Las Vegas. And would current Lakers star and FSG partner LeBron James ultimately become a part-owner of the archrival Celtics?

Though Grousbeck is now beginning to wind down his ownership of the team, he still has numerous equity interests elsewhere in sports, primarily through his investment firm, Causeway Media Partners. That company has invested in companies such as ticketing operator SeatGeek, streaming outlet FloSports, and internet radio provider TuneIn, among many others. 

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