Two US sports moguls just raised more than half a billion dollars — and insiders bet that they’re shopping for a UK soccer team.
Last week, prolific sports banker Gerry Cardinale and Billy Beane — the number-crunching Oakland A’s executive-turned-minority owner played by Brad Pitt in 2011’s “Moneyball” — disclosed they had raised $575 million through a “blank check” company called RedBall Acquisition Corp.
Shortly before the deal closed, a source told The Post that the so-called special-purpose acquisition company, or SPAC — essentially a pile of investor cash pledged for a buyout target that hasn’t yet been identified — would be “elephant-hunting in European soccer.”
England appears to be at the center of RedBall’s European radar. On the company’s board is Richard Scudamore, the former executive chairman of the English Premier League, who left that post at the end of 2018.
“You don’t get Scudamore to go shopping in Spain,” quipped one UK-based Premier League insider.
Beane, meanwhile, has been increasingly active in European soccer for years. In addition to being an adviser to Dutch team AZ Alkmaar, he holds a minority stake in English second-tier club Barnsley.
Experts say English clubs will likely welcome cash infusions after the Premier League finished the last three months of its coronavirus-stunted season playing empty stadiums in what was called “Project Restart.”
“The Premier league has gone through a difficult time with Project Restart,” said Daniel Geey, a partner at London-based law firm Sheridans, who specializes in sports. “Clubs will have COVID-related budget shortfalls. There might be cash flow issues coming up.”
Using a SPAC to acquire a team would be possible in England. Elite club Manchester United already trades on the New York Stock Exchange. Newcastle United, which Forbes values at $381 million, recently saw its sale to the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund fall apart.
Another target could be London-based Tottenham Hotspur, which Forbes values at more than $1.6 billion. Spurs, as the club is known, made the Champions League final last year and opened a new stadium in 2019 which doubles as the London home of the NFL.
Most likely, according to multiple sources in the US and UK, RedBall is eyeing a large minority investment in Liverpool, the English club that won the European Champions League tournament in 2019 and were crowned Premier League Champions in late June.
“Liverpool has to be their primary target,” said one sports banker. “It’s a top brand and a huge club. It’s also looking for a deal like this.”
Beane is a longtime Liverpool superfan. Club owner John Henry — better known stateside as the owner of the Boston Red Sox — famously tried to poach Beane from Oakland in 2002, and has implemented many of Beane’s analytical, stat-driven “Moneyball” strategies with the Red Sox and Liverpool. In interviews, Beane has called Henry a friend.
“I know he loves Liverpool,” one source familiar with Beane told The Post.
Due to its recent success, Forbes estimates Liverpool’s value at $2.18 billion. Nevertheless, The Mirror reported that Liverpool could lose more than $250 million in its championship season because of the pandemic.
Henry’s Fenway Sports Group might be feeling an even deeper pinch considering the Red Sox are also set to hemorrhage cash in a shortened baseball season with no ticket or concession revenue.
“Rumor has been that Liverpool owners are looking to sell a minority interest,” said Geey.
Like many top teams in England, Liverpool has used increased revenue from the Premier League’s huge international TV deals to attract top talent. The club’s wage bill for the 2019/2020 season was more than $345 million, the second highest in the league.
“Liverpool has been shopping a minority stake,” one sports banker told The Post. “Even before COVID.”
Cardinale, a former Goldman Sachs executive and longtime sports business player, whose firm RedBird Capital Partners played a key role in the creation of the Yankees’ cable network, YES, recently purchased the XFL with new partner Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
In 2018, The Post reported that Henry was open to selling his soccer team. FSG denied that was the case at the time.
A Liverpool spokesman declined to comment to The Post on a potential new minority sale.
Sources told The Post that Cardinale and Beane will have well over $1 billion at their disposal, enough to take on a large minority stake in Liverpool. The Post also confirmed that RedBall can deploy an SPAC to acquire a minority stake.
If successful in grabbing a share of the 128-year-old soccer club, Cardinale and Beane will join another US sports celebrity who owns a stake in Liverpool. NBA icon LeBron James bought 2 percent of the team in 2011.
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