Did a banking group led by Goldman Sachs exaggerate Ultimate Fighting Championship’s financial prospects to entice lenders to help fund a WME-IMG-led group’s $4 billion acquisition of the mixed martial arts operation?
Federal Reserve bank supervisors apparently think it’s possible, Bloomberg reports. Regulators recently warned Goldman Sachs that it might have made too many rosy assumptions about UFC’s potential earnings when it sold about $1.8 billion in debt for the transaction this past summer.
The debt offering’s high interest rates caught everyone’s attention, even though Moody’s Investor Service deemed it highly speculative — making it too risky for pension funds, colleges and others limited to investment-grade transactions. One part of the offering reportedly attracted four times more orders than the borrowers could accommodate.
But officials question whether Goldman stoked the excitement by offering unrealistic growth projections for UFC.
For example, they were told that cost savings and growth in licensing would help EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) to “more than double to $298 million” from $142 million in the fiscal year ending in June, Bloomberg says citing documents it obtained.
That’s important because lenders often judge the riskiness of a company’s debt by looking at how many times greater it is than EBITDA.
Regulators are concerned about the number of high-risk lending deals. In July the the Fed, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency released a report saying that credit risk in the country “remained elevated,” though “underwriting and risk management practices improved from prior assessments.”
Founded in 1993, UFC has soared in popularity in recent years with crossover stars including former champion Ronda Rousey (Furious 7) and Randy Couture (The Expendables 3).
It has more than 40 live events a year and boasts that it’s the world’s largest pay-per-view event provider, with broadcasts in 29 languages to more than 156 countries and territories with 1.1 billion-plus television households.
Last week UFC added some celebrity glitter to its ownership ranks. It said that its backers now include Ben Affleck, Sylvester Stallone, Jimmy Kimmel, Tyler Perry, Mark Wahlberg, Michael Bay, Conan O’Brien, Trey Parker, Adam Levine, Guy Fieri, LL Cool J, Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye, Anthony Kiedis and Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Calvin Harris, Cam Newton, Li Na, Maria Sharapova, Rob Dyrdek, Serena and Venus Williams, Tom Brady and Robert Kraft.