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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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No Vote, for Now: Why Private Equity’s NFL Wait Continues

  • Many thought NFL owners would vote on private equity at its annual meeting.
  • The league is examining investor types and exit strategies.
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Every other U.S. major league has done it. There is a need for it. But the NFL is in no rush to approve private equity ownership in teams, pushing back a vote that last year many thought would take place this week to now possibly October.

NFL owners still are studying the right type of investors as the universe of institutional money is larger than just private equity, says an NFL official. Questions about how private equity firms, or others, would exit their investment in the teams is also a question, as to date there has been only one exit among the dozens of such investments in NBA, MLB, NHL, and MLS teams, this official says. That was Dyal HomeCourt and the Suns, which were bought last year by Mat Ishbia. What the maximum percentage of investment would be allowed is undecided (the top percent in the other leagues is 20%). There are even questions about which level of vetting the secretive funds would tolerate to meet the NFL’s probing requirements.

“Well, I believe our ownership policies are really important,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (above) told reporters Tuesday. “I know our ownership does, too. We had a report on it yesterday and a lengthy discussion about it. I think the committee has worked incredibly hard. And they’ve been very deliberate in the way they’ve evaluated the different alternatives. We’re making progress. I think there’ll be some changes, maybe as early as May, probably closer to October.”

That committee is a special ownership one, which Goodell formed in October 2023. Questioned about his comments then that a decision could come by the recently concluded annual meeting, Goodell said the committee is close.

“They came very close to sort of outlining an approach,” he said. “And the approach is something that we want to make sure [we are] aligned with, but I think that’s true. Now we have a lot of work to do to take that approach into reality. So I feel very comfortable with the timing. I feel zero pressure. I don’t think our committee does nor our membership. So we’ll continue to go through that process and come to the best conclusion, regardless of the time.”

Soaring Franchise Values

Rising franchise values and tight debt rules have created a limited pool of buyers who can afford an NFL team. The Commanders sold for $6.05 billion last year, and owner Josh Harris struggled to make the deal work. Also, as heirs to teams face steep estate taxes, private equity investment could play a role in raising funds to pay the IRS bill.

Speaking of investments, Goodell said on the status of Tom Brady’s effort to invest in the Raiders, “We go through a very thorough process on all of the transfers. So we are just going through that process, we’ve been in touch with the Raiders. I think it’s making progress.”

Initially Brady received a discount for his agreement to buy a small slice of the team, which generated pushback from owners. His pending role as a Fox NFL broadcaster also has been cited as a possible hurdle.

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