Liverpool owners FSG make £2bn move as LeBron James plan takes step closer


Liverpool owners Fenway Sports Group want to add more sporting teams to their empire – and that is something they haven’t tried to keep secret.

Reds chairman Tom Werner, Sam Kennedy and fellow FSG partner Gerry Cardinale – whose RedBird Capital Partners private equity firm owns 11 per cent of Liverpool’s owners – have all declared that the next phase of growth for the group will come from more team acquisitions, something that will follow on from the November takeover of the Pittsburgh Penguins NHL team in a $900m deal.

More football teams have been mooted, potentially in South America or in Major League Soccer, while a run at an NFL team much further down the line hasn’t been ruled out. But it is an NBA acquisition that is expected to take place next for FSG, whose overall empire is now valued by Forbes magazine at around $10bn.

Werner, in an interview with the Forbes Sports Money last month, hinted at an NBA move, and FSG partner and basketball icon LeBron James being involved, saying: “(Owning an NBA team) is certainly something that we would look at. We don’t have a secret piece of paper that says, ‘let’s go acquire an NBA team’.

“LeBron James has made no secret that at some point he would like to be involved in ownership and he is a wonderful partner, so we’ll see how that goes.”

Cardinale, speaking to the Boston Globe earlier this month, revealed that adding an NBA franchise to the FSG portfolio was “a real top priority” and that the hope was that RedBird would be “significantly increasing their capital” in FSG to aid the pursuit of more opportunities in sport.

Quite where FSG might land in the NBA is something that is up in the air. FSG had been interested in the Minnesota Timberwolves, it had been reported in the US, but it is in potential expansion franchises that are set to arrive in the NBA in the next couple of years that seem to be where the gaze has been focused, with Las Vegas and Seattle both set to get the green light to get two new NBA teams as the league seeks to expand.

NBA insider Bill Simmons, founder of The Ringer and boasting a social media following of 5.6m, told a Mediaite podcast: “I have some intel and I think the league is going to expand to Vegas and to Seattle.

“I think the leading contender to get that expansion team is going to be Fenway Sports Group. They have Liverpool, they have the Red Sox, they bought the Penguins. They have been circling different NBA teams for a while – I think they looked at Minnesota.

“I think that they are the leading contender to Vegas. If I had to bet on a LeBron scenario then I would be that he would be involved with whatever happens with that. He would be the point man of that Vegas team. I haven’t heard it get mentioned and I don’t care if it gets aggregated because I think I’m right. I think that is ‘Scenario A’ for LeBron.”

And that potential expansion franchise in Vegas appears to have taken a step closer to becoming a reality after 25 acres of land was acquired by the Oak View Group investment firm, who plan to create an entertainment district that will include a 20,000 capacity arena, with Oak View saying they would be willing to spend $1bn on as part of an overall $3bn development, which would have a “world class, NBA ready” arena should the NBA decide upon Las Vegas as being an appropriate place to land an expansion franchise.

“We’re going to go after every big event that exists,” Oak View CEO Tim Leiweke told CNBC, via Bloomberg. “It’s exclusive, it’s high-end and it will be built in a way where it’s the perfect experience for those willing to spend the money to have the greatest experience in live entertainment.

“There is zero guarantee the NBA comes to Vegas; we are well aware of that. But if the NBA does come to Vegas, this building will be an option. It will be built to the highest specifications of the NBA.”

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has previously said that Vegas would be a city under consideration, and there has been recent activity in growing sport in the city with the arrival of an NFL franchise in the form of the Las Vegas Raiders, and an NHL team in the shape of the Las Vegas Golden Knights.

Acquiring another sporting property would likely propel FSG into second place, past Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke’s ownership group, as the most valuable sporting empire, a list that is headed by the owners of Formula One, Liberty Media.