It was supposed to be a distress sale. The team has no arena, a lousy lease with one of its rival's co-owners and, God knows, little good will. But the Los Angeles Clippers fetched a sale price of $2 billion from one of the world's richest men, Steve Ballmer, who doesn't even live in L.A. and wanted to move the Kings to Seattle only a year ago.
So that price for a team in the second biggest market has Nets owners and fans alike wondering, "how much are the Nets worth if the Clippers are worth $2 billion??" After all, the Nets play in the biggest market in an arena owned by the same investors who put money in the Nets, and benefit from (mostly) good will, as reflected in their merchandise sales. Historically, in the Forbes listings of franchise values, the Nets have traditionally held a 30 to 35 percent advantage over the Clippers.
One number that we heard bandied about in New York basketball circles last night and this morning was $2.5 billion ... for the Nets only, not for Barclays Center, which is owned be the same people in different percentages and could fetch another billion. Others think the valuation could be higher, at $2.7 billion.
For Mikhail Prokhorov, that means roughly a 1,000 percent -- or 10 times -- return on his cash investment of $223 million in four years. He also assumed $160 million in debt service back then and agreed to eat $60 million to cover expenses in New Jersey. In return, he received 80 percent of the team and 45 percent of the arena. With a $2.5 billion valuation, Prokhorov's 80 percent of the team would be worth $2 billion and his 45 percent of the arena another $450 million. Not bad considering that a year ago, people questioned Irina Pavlova's estimate of between $700 to $800 million.
For Bruce Ratner, it's more about cold hard cash. He's trying to sell his partnership's stake now. Only last week, Sports Business Journal reported that Ratner's investment banker put a billion dollar valuation on the team and thus, $200 million on what Ratner's group owns. Officially, Ratner's parent company, Forest City Enterprises, owns 12 percent of the team, with perhaps as many as 100 other investors, including Ratner himself --and Jason Kidd, owning the other eight percent.. For Kidd, who paid $500,000 for 1/12th of one percent of the team and 1/4 of one percent of the arena, those valuations would make him look like a very savvy investor. Combined, his investment could now be worth $2.5 million, $2 million for his team, $500,000 for the stake in the arena.
What makes the Nets --and the Clippers-- so valuable. For openers, the valuation of teams has skyrocketed in the last four years. As Forbes writes, the most recent NBA sales were the Milwaukee Bucks ($550 million), Sacramento Kings ($534 million), Memphis Grizzlies ($377 million), New Orleans Pelicans ($340 million), Toronto Raptors (an estimated $400 million as part of the sale of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment) and 76ers ($287 million). Only the Sixers are in a top 10 market.
The reality of a stable CBA and the promise of new national --and local-- TV rights deals are big reasons why things have gone so well, but the game now has legitimate heroes and is not burdened with the bad boys of the 1990's and the last decade. It's not been tainted by violence or performance enhancing drug scandals as other sports have.
Could it all be a bubble, a wildly inflated, not very stable and short-lived phenomenon? Could be, but as Zach Lowe of Grantland writes, It's likely to go on for a while.
"There are burbling worries of a bubble, anxiety that the NBA boom can’t possibly persist forever, but there are no signs of a slowdown — and there likely won’t be any until well after the beefy new TV deal kicks in," writes Lowe.
No one yet knows what the Nets would go for, IF Prokhorov was willing to sell --and there is NO indication he's interested in selling-- but Ratner hopes to get a handle on what his share is worth soon. That will go a long way toward determining what reality is.
- The $2 Billion Bubble? What the Clippers Sale Means for the NBA and the Players - Zach Lowe - Grantland