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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Learfield Extends Private Equity Presence In College Sports

  • Deal advances private equity's presence in college sports
  • Company avoids potential bankruptcy filing with new ownership structure
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

One of the major agencies handling the commercial business of college sports has completed a large-scale recapitalization and ownership shift, providing some much-needed stability.

The Texas-based Learfield, which works with more than 1,200 collegiate institutions, will transfer its majority ownership to a trio of private equity firms — Clearlake Capital Group, Charlesbank Capital Partners, and Fortress Investment Group — injecting $150 million in new equity investment and reducing the company’s outstanding debt by more than $600 million. 

Learfield’s prior owners — sports and entertainment giant Endeavor and private equity firms Silver Lake and Atairos — will remain minority partners. 

Prior to the deal, Learfield’s long-term survival was in question as it faced $1.1 billion in maturing debt this year.

“The future was always bright. What was in question was, ‘OK, how does the company get on the other side of the gauntlet of managing these debt maturities?’” Learfield president and CEO Cole Gahagan told Front Office Sports. “From Day 1, we were mission-focused on doing that … out of [bankruptcy] court.”

Learfield’s operations span a wide range of areas including multimedia rights sales, ticketing, merchandising, digital media, and name, image, and likeness (NIL) efforts.

“We now turn back to our core principles … and this team at Learfield has done a phenomenal job getting five, 10 years ahead of where our industry is going and putting the foundational pieces in place,” Gahagan said.

Further Advance Of Private Equity

Though Learfield previously had private equity ties — as do other major firms operating in college sports such as Playfly Sports and Legends — this latest deal advances an emerging industry trend

“With the rapid pace of change and evolution in college athletics, there are a number of businesses that are trying to chase every conceivable opportunity that comes along with that evolution and change,” Gahagan said. “But Learfield has been very deliberate and very patient about what we go after.” 

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