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Private Equity Investment in Football


RedBird Capital Partners, Clearlake Capital, Oaktree Capital Management and Silver Lake. All these names are becoming more and more familiar amid global sport’s search for additional sources of finance. The rising valuations of the biggest European football teams and US soccer franchises has been one of the main driving factors of increasing investment in the sports industry from an array of sport investors. Private equity (“PE”) investment in the football (soccer) sector, in particular, has become an increasingly prominent topic in sports business discourse. US-based PE firms are now influential stakeholders in the global sport industry owing to the vast financial power and operational expertise they boast. This article seeks to analyse what PE’s essentially do, the reasons behind PE’s aggressive investment into football, and review recent, pertinent examples of PE investment into the European football industry.

What is PE?

PE is an alternative source of private financing that provides vast sums of capital investment into companies in exchange for equity stakes. PE firms are not necessarily fixated upon the on-pitch success of the sports clubs or league they buy stakes in. Rather, the focus rests on the financial success that these sports properties enjoy. PE firms generally aim for “annual returns of 20 to 30 percent on their [sports team] investments” (Twomey and Slater 2022).

While clubs were the initial target in the first few years of the influx of PE into sport, PE is not solely restricted to club ownership investments. PE firms’ sports investment portfolios may include leagues and the commercial arms thereof (discussed infra). Investing at a league level offers better financial success for PE; given the lucrative sales revenue and continued growth in the value of media rights and broadcasting deals. However, as mentioned, the projected valuation growth of football clubs (and sports teams in general) offers an opportunity to PE firms to make long-term financial gains.

COVID Opens the Door for Heightened PE Efforts

Covid-19 was a key catalyst in accelerating PE investment in football. Football clubs generate income from three main revenue streams: matchday income (i.e. ticketing, food and beverage, parking), media and league-concluded broadcasting deals, and commercial income (i.e. club merchandising and sponsorship).

Being subjected to broadcast rebates, sponsors halting deals and having to play games in empty stadiums, clubs saw their finances severely curtailed. PE essentially capitalised on this and exploited the football ecosystem’s desperate need for immediate cash flow. In 2021, for example, Oaktree Capital Management borrowed Italian football club, Inter Milan, €275m in exchange for a 31% ownership stake in the club. This was mainly as a result of Inter’s owners, Suning Holdings Group, facing severe financial shortfalls caused by the pandemic and their need to cut back on the club’s running costs. It does not matter how storied or historic a club may be, they are not immune from the financial realities of the current climate.

League-Level Investment by PE Firms

National football leagues and competitions have become a big attraction for PE investment too. European football leagues like Serie A and Ligue 1 have suffered financial losses due to COVID-19. Following the league’s revenues diminishing as a result of financial shortfalls caused by the pandemic, SportsPro revealed that Serie A had revived their interest for a €1.7bn PE capital investment (Dixon 2022). CVC Capital Partners failed to strike a similar agreement with Serie A in November 2020, when it ultimately failed to secure a 10% stake of a newly created entity that would manage Serie A’s media rights business. In September 2021 however, CVC agreed a deal with Spanish football league, La Liga, to buy 8.25% of the league’s media rights for the next 50 years for a reported sum of $2.27bn (Dixon 2022). An agreement of such lengthy duration ensures CVC extracts maximum financial returns on the investment provided.

In 2019, City Football Group – a global multi-club ownership group, including the likes of Manchester City – sold a 10% stake in the group to US-based PE firm Silver Lake for $500m. Silver Lake went on to buy a significant holding in the Australian National Professional League in 2021, for a reported $100m (Byers 2021). This was the largest ever once-off investment pumped into the entire Australian sports sector.

PE Shows No Signs of Slowing in 2022

In the first half of 2022, PE has been at the centre of European football club takeovers. For instance, two Serie A clubs have received PE investment. First, Italian club Atalanta, sold a $36m equity stake to PE firm Arctos Sports Partners (Coffeey and Novy-Williams 2022). In May, SportBusiness reported that American PE firm, RedBird Capital, is set to buy Serie A champions, AC Milan, for $1.4bn (Hamilton 2022). In the English Premier League, a consortium led by LA-Dodgers owner, Todd Boehly, bought Chelsea for a total of $5.24bn.

While Boehly is the public figurehead of the new ownership group, the majority shareholder of the club is US-based PE firm, Clearlake Capital. The firm manages over $72bn in assets. The Athletic reports that Clearlake will own 60 percent of the Premier League club (Twomey and Slater 2022).

An increasingly utilised practice is leagues and national associations splitting their commercial rights into a separate commercial arm and then directing the PE investment received to such arms. This guarantees returns for the PE firm, as the value of sports media and commercial rights are certain to continue surging.

France’s Professional Football League, for example, established a commercial arm that would operate as the league’s media rights business, prior to selling a 13% stake of that commercial entity to CVC Capital Partners for a reported $1.66bn (SportsBusiness Writers 2022). Last month, Sportico reported that Apollo Global Management, one of the leading PE companies in the world, made an offer of $1.25bn to Mexican national football league Liga MX (Pelit, Novy-Williams and Soshnick 2022). This sum would be invested in exchange for a 20% share of the profits from their media rights sales for the next 50 years, and a 20% ownership share in a new commercial entity that would manage Liga MX’s international media rights.

A further demonstration of PE’s flexible investment strategy is Sixth Street’s $380m investment in Real Madrid, for a 30% stake in a new business entity that would manage the newly renovated Santiago Bernabeu stadium (Williams 2022).


Ultimately, it can be concluded that PE is becoming increasingly creative, with its investors primarily looking to unlock the financial potential of the sports teams (or leagues) they purchase or invest in. With football in particular, PE has become ubiquitous and continues to provide much-needed capital for the biggest clubs, leagues and competitions to operate both prudently and effectively. The question that remains to be answered is this: what will the cost of football’s increasing reliance on PE investment be in a few years’ time? And more specifically, will that cost lay solely in monetary terms or, perhaps, creep from the balance sheet to the boardroom?

Original post written by Jabu Mtwa on Linkedin

List of References

  1. Byers, J. Silver Lake Buys $100M Stake in Australian Professional Leagues., Front Office Sports, 14 December 2021. Available URL: Accessed 12 May 2022

  2. Coffeey, B., Novy-Williams, E. Arctos Sports Buys $36 Million Stake in Italian Soccer Club Atalanta., Sportico, 9 May 2022. Available URL: Accessed 12 May 2022

  3. Dixon, E. Private Property: Where do the top sports leagues stand with private equity?., SportsPro, 14 January 2022. Available URL: Accessed 18 January 2022

  4. Dixon, E. LaLiga revenue falls 24.1% to 3.82bn for 2020/21., SportsPro, 11 May 2022. Available URL: Accessed 12 May 2022

  5. Dixon, E. Report: Serie A revives €1.7bn private equity investment talks., SportsPro, 6 September 2021. Available URL: Accessed 12 May 2022

  6. Hamilton, Gavin. US fund RedBird agrees to buy AC Milan., SportBusiness, 20 May 2022. Available URL: Accessed 20 May 2022

  7. Hanton, P., Scott, G. Why Long-Term Private Equity In Sport Is A Potential Game Changer., LawInSport, 12 August 2020. Available URL: Accessed 28 February 2022

  8. Pelit, A., Novy-Williams, E., Soshnick, S. Apollo Eyes $1.25 Billion Mexican Soccer Investment., Sportico, 16 May 2022. Available URL: Accessed 16 May 2022

  9. Savva, M., Bolton, S. How Leagues and Football Clubs Are Leveraging Equity Finance., LawInSport, 17 September 2021. Available URL:

  10. SportBusiness Staff. LFP, CVC formalise creation of ‘historic’ commercial subsidiary., SportBusiness, 1 April 2022. Available URL: Accessed 5 April 2022

  11. Twomey, L., Slater, M. What Chelsea fans need to know about Clearlake Capital., The Athletic, 18 May 2022. Available URL: Accessed 18 May 2022

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