Saturday, March 31, 2012

If I Had the Moolah...

I just finished taking a GREAT class called "Managing Sport & Entertainment" this spring.   Great guest speakers, topics, and cases that ran the gammut including Manchester United, Cirque du Soleil, Radiohead, NYC nightclubs, Broadway theater, YouTube, the book publishing industry, and much more.

If I had a couple hundred million dollars lying around, I'd invest in a sports franchise (though be a bit more price conscious than the likes of Magic Johnson recently).   Or an entertainment business (there is convergence). Sports franchises are full of passionate people who tend to make passionate decisions.  Take for example European football (whose revenues top those of the NFL, MLB, and NHL combined).  Even in the economic recession, there is no "revenue problem" for European football.  Fans will pinch pennies elsewhere before giving up on football.  Stadiums are sold out.  Lucrative media deals are struck year after year (plus you have new players like Al Jazeera who are just throwing money at it and driving up prices).  Teams have increasingly learned to monetize the brand with licensing deals.  And while all this money is coming in, there has been a wave of European football clubs going bankrupt (some are publicly listed) and others continuing to struggle financially year after year.   The virtuous cycle should be that money comes in, it's invested wisely on and off the pitch, more tickets sold, etc.  However, it's warped in the opposite direction for some clubs.  My hypothesis is that some of these football clubs (and other sports teams, in general) have passionate people making irrational decisions (record contracts given to players, bigger stadiums, etc.).   I feel there's a positive correlation between the sophistication of the team off the field and the sustainability of teams.    Seems ripe for some turnaround investors (and cash flows are more stable than you'd think).

Another story that stuck with me was that of Guy Lilberte, the founder of Cirque du Soleil.  Around each big top touring show Cirque has, there is a white picket fence.  Guy calls this his world when customers walk through this fence.  If you've ever been to a Cirque show, you know that it's an emotional roller coaster where you leave on a high.  Guy's purpose for starting Cirque was so that when people entered his world, they would forget the troubles and torments of their life and let him entertain and educate them on what is possible.  And then maybe, when they walk out of the picket fence, they will take a piece of his world with them.  The best entertainment businesses are driven by something other than profit.  I personally respect them for that and think that applies to most businesses in general.

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