Don’t count Philip Anschutz out as a potential owner of an NFL franchise in Los Angeles. Contrary to what some speculate, I’m told that the big reason the reclusive billionaire decided to put his AEG live entertainment business on the block is because it could provide him with the cash, and flexibility, to land a football team and stadium that would provide a legacy for him and his family — somewhat like Jerry Jones’ with the Dallas Cowboys. Anschutz would like to back away from live entertainment and ticketing. It’s a tough business that’s become tougher than ever as Live Nation and its Ticketmaster subsidiary have become more dominant. And, like a lot of people, Anschutz was impressed by the recent $2.15B deal to sell the Los Angeles Dodgers to Guggenheim Partners. It demonstrated just how lucrative it can be to own a trophy sports property in LA. No wonder he hired the bankers who handled the arrangements for Frank McCourt — Blackstone Advisory Group — to also manage the AEG auction. It features stakes in sports teams including the Los Angeles Lakers and the Kings, as well as real estate holdings.
Price estimates for AEG range anywhere from from $4B to $7B, depending on which assets Anschutz includes in the package. Blackstone should find it easy to attract potential buyers. Los Angeles sports and entertainment properties are irresistible for rich people around the globe. In addition, Guggenheim Partners and billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong are said to be interested. Jim Dolan’s MSG likely will want to take a look to see whether there’s an opportunity to reduce its dependence on New York teams and properties — although it probably doesn’t have the resources to swing a mega-deal. News Corp also would have to be curious. And you never know what Liberty Media’s Chairman John Malone will do. His company is mostly known for its investments, and he may want a business to operate — even if it means unloading his 21% stake in Live Nation. There’s even some chatter that Liberty CEO Greg Maffei would relish an opportunity to break away from Malone to run a big business on his own. Blackstone probably won’t hear from many private equity firms, though. They like deals that are easy to enter, and exit — and AEG would fail on both counts.
The AEG sale arrangements could be so complicated that we’ll probably have to wait until we’re well into 2013 before we’ll know how things will play out. If what I hear is correct, and Anschutz wants to own a football team himself, then he’ll want to be sure that a buyer’s friendly to his NFL ambitions. AEG chief executive Tim Leiweke said in the company’s statement that a new owner “will have the historic opportunity to benefit from AEG’s strategy to reunite Los Angeles with the NFL, as AEG moves forward with its efforts to bring an NFL franchise to Farmers Field to be built at L.A. LIVE.”