US private equity giant Silver Lake is investing $500 million in the owner of Manchester City, a deal that values the soccer group at nearly $5 billion and signals a concerted move by the veteran tech investors into sports.
Under the agreement announced Wednesday, Silver Lake will buy just over 10% of City Football Group, which is controlled by the United Arab Emirates royal Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
In addition to the English Premier League champions Manchester City, the soccer group owns teams in the United States, Australia, China, Japan, Spain, and Uruguay.
“Silver Lake is a global leader in technology investing, and we are delighted by both the validation that their investment in CFG represents, and the opportunities for further growth that their partnership brings,” Khaldoon Al Mubarak, the chairman of City Football Group, said in a statement.
CFG said it was worth $4.8 billion as a consequence of the deal, a record valuation for a soccer franchise, according to the consultancy Brand Finance.
“Within world football, this is almost certainly the largest ever sports enterprise valuation,” said Bryn Anderson, director of sports services at Brand Finance. “When we look at major league baseball and the eye-watering deals in the NFL and even e-sports now, this news will no doubt cause ripples across the sporting and private equity worlds.”
Alibaba (BABA) co-founder Joe Tsai took sole ownership of Brooklyn Nets earlier this year, a deal that reportedly valued the basketball team at $2.35 billion, a US record. Manchester City’s cross-town rival, Manchester United (MANU), has a stock market value of $2.75 billion.
Silver Lake has over $43 billion in assets under management and is best known for its investments in tech companies including Alibaba (BABA), Tesla (TSLA) and Dell (DELL). But the firm has turned its attention to entertainment and live events in recent years, picking up stakes in The Madison Square Garden Company (MSG) and mixed martial arts league UFC.
The investment in Manchester City vaults Silver Lake into a new league when it comes to sports. England’s top soccer clubs have attracted huge international fan bases and owners with extremely deep pockets. Chelsea is owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, while Americans control both Arsenal and European champions Liverpool.
Yet the deal is not without risks for Silver Lake. Human rights groups have attacked Manchester City’s owners, describing the UAE royal family’s purchase of the club in 2008 as an attempt to “sportswash” its image and distract from the country’s human rights record.
Manchester City is also being scrutinized for potential unfair financial practices. UEFA, European football’s governing body, has been investigating the club for possible breaches of its Financial Fair Play regulations, which are supposed to stop clubs from getting into unmanageable debt or allowing wealthy benefactors to give top teams an unfair advantage.
Manchester City has denied wrongdoing, but it could be banned from the prestigious Champions League for a year if soccer authorities rule against the club.
Forbes Magazine estimated earlier this year that Manchester City was worth $2.69 billion, making it the world’s 25th most valuable sports team. The magazine said that soccer clubs Bayern Munich ($3.02 billion), Manchester United ($3.8 billion), Barcelona ($4.02 billion) and Real Madrid ($4.24 billion) were all worth more.
The New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys topped the ranking with estimated valuations of $4.6 billion and $5 billion, respectively.