NFL Private Equity Proposal Opens the Door to More Sportswashing

Today the NFL is expected to vote on rules which would allow for private equity investment in teams and their franchises for the first time. Sports Fans Coalition is sounding the alarm on the dangers this could pose to American fandom.

The NFL, with the help of PJT Partners, is discussing introducing private equity investment through a special committee. The special committee is made up of owners Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots, Arthur Blank of the Atlanta Falcons, Jimmy Haslam of the Cleveland Browns, Greg Penner of the Denver Broncos, and Clark Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Today in Nashville the committee is discussing private equity in football and possibly drafting a policy  that would allow private equity investment. Previously the special committee has yet to publicly propose concrete parameters of what an NFL private equity plan might look like.”

What is private equity and why are we against it? Private equity investment is the ability for private firms to pull funds to buy/own a stake in a company, or in this case a football team and its respective franchise along with the people who work for each individual team. Notoriously, private equity firms are buying local newsrooms, hospitals, and many other vital services across the country, gutting these businesses in the process. This means that firms are caring more about the profits that they make rather than the livelihoods that suffer from the erosion of their jobs.

The NFL is continuing to increase their revenue, but the issue is that the number of people who can afford to own a stake in these teams are shrinking. Fewer billionaires are interested in buying stakes in teams because team valuations are soaring. After the purchase of the Washington Commanders in July, the average NFL team value rose 14% over the past year to $5.1 billion.  Majority owners are struggling to finance teams without the helping hand of money from another buyer. If the NFL allows private equity investment, private firms would be stakes in teams. The proposal would allow a 20% maximum equity stake per fund in one team. However, a team would not be able to have more than 30% equity owned by a fund. Former NFL player Eli Manning decided to join the pro-private equity stance for his own firm, Brand Velocity Group. He is one of the many private equity firms chomping to get a piece of the NFL and the profits that have continued to skyrocket over the years. 

Proponents argue that the rise in profits for these teams and their investors will help raise wages for the players and staff, but at what cost?

Throughout the last decade investors have been digging their claws into the juggernaut that is American sports. Some investors are from foreign countries which seem very opportune for the promotion of American sports and players, but the opportunity is not in America’s favor. However, in reality it leaves American fandom susceptible to something much worse – Foreign Sovereign Wealth Funds. Foreign countries with authoritarian regimes are trying to gain influence with Americans through “Sportswashing,” and by doing so, gain influence over American politics. Sportswashing is the practice where governments, individuals, corporations, and groups try to wash over their scandalous and damaging reputation, especially with regard to human rights abuses, through sport avenues like events, team ownership/invest, etc. 

One prime example is Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment (PIF). The fund has a significant stake in Walt Disney Company (owner of ESPN), Facebook, and many more American companies. With PIF’s stake in ESPN they have the ability to cleanse their reputation through utilizing sportswashing in the American sports sector. We have already seen Saudi Arabia do with LIV golf and the Professional Fighters League.

Created in 2015 from a merger between Blackstone and PJT Capital LP, PJT Partners is helping advise the NFL on this decision. Blackstone is a private equity firm that has done business with Saudi Arabia’s PIF for years now despite knowing about the regime's reputation. This company does not care that their business partners are murderers and institute an authoritarian regime that goes against human rights standards. 

PJT Partners, at least through Blackstone, has standing connections with the regime and may soon have the ear of the NFL. This means that they would be pushing private equity investment to try and increase profits for possible minority owners like themselves, their parent company, and its business partners, at the expense of fans. 

Sports Fans Coalition urges the NFL to reject any proposal that allows for foreign investment fund to buy stakes in American football teams. 

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  • Brian Hess
    published this page in Blog 2024-05-20 15:42:04 -0400