LeBron James has been increasingly vocal in recent years about his desire to own an NBA expansion team in Las Vegas, going so far as to say last year, “I would love to bring a team here at some point.” Now, some of his biggest financial partners are confirming their interest in aiding that goal, providing what could prove to be crucial support.
“We’re looking at bringing an NBA expansion team [to Vegas] in partnership with LeBron and Fenway Sports Group,” Gerry Cardinale, the founder of RedBird Capital Partners, said Wednesday at the Sports Business Journal Intercollegiate Athletics Forum. “We started this project three years ago.”
James and RedBird are both currently partners in FSG, the parent organization of the Boston Red Sox, Pittsburgh Penguins, Liverpool FC, and the New England Sports Network. Their joint Las Vegas initiative would in part look to take advantage of an ongoing sports boom in the Nevada city previously shunned by most sports leagues.
Beyond the upcoming Super Bowl to be held at the Raiders’ Allegiant Stadium, the city in just a few years has become home to the Golden Knights, Aces, Formula 1’s Las Vegas Grand Prix, the end of the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament, and soon will also have the A’s.
The NBA efforts could be further boosted by a planned $10 billion development led by Oak View Group, with an NBA arena as its centerpiece.
But while that prospective ownership group contains plenty of star power and financial muscle, Cardinale cautioned that rising franchise values could prove to be a sizable impediment.
“The price talk on an NBA team three years ago was $3 billion. The price talk today on an NBA expansion team is $5.5 billion to $6 billion,” he said. “I’m not sure I can make that work. … Maybe I’m evolved out of existence. Maybe now I’m turning over the baton to a sovereign [wealth fund] or to a lower-cost-of-capital provider. Could be.”
There is no firm timetable for any NBA expansion moves, but the league is expected to focus more on that area after completing its next round of domestic media rights.
Editor’s Note: RedBird IMI is an investor in Front Office Sports.