John Henry and FSG handed £3.95bn opportunity they might not be able to refuse as sale price set

-Credit: (Image: James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images)
-Credit: (Image: James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images)

It has been common knowledge for some time now that Fenway Sports Group want to add an NBA to their portfolio of sporting assets.

For some two years now there has been strong links between the Liverpool owners and the purchase of an expansion franchise in the world’s elite basketball competition, with Las Vegas having long been seen as the destination of choice.

Basketball icon LeBron James, still at 39 a star in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers, has been tipped to be the man to lead a new team in what would be his first front office job when he does decide to finish his glittering career, with James a partner in FSG, his equity in the company growing at the start of 2023.

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An expansion franchise isn’t confirmed yet, but it is almost certain to come to pass. The NBA needed to solve its media deal for the next cycle, which looks set to be a staggering $76bn over 11 years, while it also needed to agree a collective bargaining agreement with its players' union. With the latter already agreed, and the former appearing to be a formality, attention to expanding the league from its current 30 teams to 32 appears imminent.

James has said previously that his last season playing would be alongside his son, Bronny James. That dream moved a step closer last week after James Jnr was drafted by the Lakers in the NBA Draft, although given James Snr’s continued stellar performance for the Lakers it might not be just yet that he leaves the hardwood behind.

An expansion franchise in Las Vegas is something that FSG have had an interest in for some time. Vegas is a market that has boomed for sport through the arrival of an NFL team, an NHL team, and Formula One in recent years. It is seen as a market with enormous growth potential in the coming years, but it wouldn’t come cheap, with estimates as high as $5bn for a team in that market.

But could FSG’s plans change?

Over the weekend it was revealed that the group that owns the Boston Celtics, including Bostonian billionaires Wyc Grousbeck and Stephen Pagliuca, were putting the team on the market just weeks after they were crowned NBA champions for the 18th time.

The Celtics are a prime franchise in a market where FSG, and principal John W. Henry, are well-versed.

FSG already own the Boston Red Sox baseball team, while Henry owns the Boston Globe newspaper privately. They also have considerable redevelopment ongoing in the city around Fenway Park.

When quizzed about whether or not they would be looking to sell any of their portfolio of teams, which also includes the Pittsburgh Penguins NHL team, Henry gave some clues when speaking to the Financial Times.

Henry wrote: “My wife and I live and work in Boston. We are committed to the city, the region. So the Sox are not going to come up for sale. We generally don’t sell assets.”

The Celtics’ value, using analysis by Forbes magazine and Sportico, can be placed around the $5bn mark, roughly the same as what high estimates on a Vegas franchise had been pegged at by some analysts the ECHO has spoken to previously.

It is a successful team with a passionate fan base in a market they know, but it is also an expensive one to keep at that level with a number of major contract decisions upcoming.

The timing might also not be as good as it could be, with James still going strong, while previous comments made about the Celtics by James himself may make it difficult for him to take the prominent front office role in an organisation that he craves, however much sense it may make for FSG from a local perspective.

In 2022, FSG had a look into the potential of acquiring the Minnesota Timberwolves, and they also briefly assessed the potential of the Phoenix Suns when they were sold last year at a $4bn valuation, but with an expansion franchise potentially on the horizon they passed. James himself has previously spoken on his desire to helm a team in Vegas.

FSG remains in ‘growth mode’, as CEO Sam Kennedy has previously said. The move into creating FSG International, where Liverpool CEO Billy Hogan sits as CEO, is a clue as to what is to come, with the Reds owners looking to acquire another football team as part of a multi-club strategy, with the aim to ultimately benefit Liverpool.

The Reds still have huge growth potential, with one investor pitch deck that the ECHO saw last year in relation to buying a minority stake estimating a potential club value of $11bn by 2030, with revenues over $1bn.

Liverpool remains part of the plan for the long term, but there will be more joining them in the FSG stable before too long.