The summer sport schedule is hotting up, with the National Basketball Association finals under way between the Boston Celtics and the Golden State Warriors and the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup playoffs just around the corner. I’ll be in Boston next week for games 3 and 4 of the basketball classic, where the Celtics will have home-court advantage after taking the first game in San Francisco.
In the meantime, we turn our eyes to a mash-up of traditional European sport with American ownership, dissecting Gerry Cardinale’s plans for AC Milan and why Liberty Media’s turnround efforts at Formula One still have a way to go. Do read on — Sara Germano, US sports business correspondent
The executive who bought AC Milan from Elliott Management
It has been a busy week for RedBird Capital Partners founder Gerry Cardinale.
The former Goldman Sachs executive capped off a busy acquisitive streak over the past two years with an agreement to purchase AC Milan, the newly crowned Serie A champions, from US hedge fund Elliott Management for €1.2bn.
The deal, signed on Wednesday, closes the curtain on an ambitious and ultimately successful turnround period under Elliott, which seized the club from Chinese businessman Li Yonghong after he defaulted on his debts in 2018. Stay tuned for more FT coverage on how the RedBird-Elliott deal came together.
For Cardinale, acquiring AC Milan — known as the Rossoneri, the Italian translation for the red and blacks — places him on a growing list of Italian-Americans scooping up football clubs in the motherland that includes Stephen Pagliuca of Atalanta BC, Rocco Commisso at ACF Fiorentina and Kyle Krause of Parma.
The Goldman alum is no stranger to sports ownership. After spending more than 20 years at the Wall Street bank, where he was a partner and helped steer its private equity investing business, he launched RedBird in 2014 and set off on an eight-year dealmaking streak.
RedBird’s assets include French football club Toulouse FC, which recently clinched promotion to the top-flight Ligue 1 for the 2022-2023 season, and a 10 per cent stake in Fenway Sports Group, the holding company that owns Liverpool Football Club and the Boston Red Sox baseball team.
RedBird also holds stakes in SpringHill Company — the media and entertainment vehicle founded by LeBron James and Maverick Carter — and, in cricket, the Indian Premier League’s Rajasthan Royals.
Cardinale’s tenure at Toulouse, along with his pre-RedBird experience creating YES, the New York Yankees’ regional sports network, form the clearest blueprints for his goals at Milan, according to a person familiar with his thinking.
His priorities include stabilising the club’s on-pitch performance to keep them at or near the top of the Serie A table, and building a suitable media and entertainment platform around what has historically been one of the most successful clubs in Europe.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday a special-purpose acquisition company established by RedBird and Moneyball manager Billy Beane called off its proposed acquisition of ticketing platform SeatGeek, just hours before the Spac shareholders were set to vote on the deal. It comes amid a broad cooling in the Spac market, which has fallen out of favour among dealmakers of late.
Scoreboard still has questions. How will Cardinale, who, despite being the descendant of Italian immigrants, doesn’t speak the language, navigate the country’s labyrinthine municipal systems to either build a new stadium or upgrade San Siro, the club’s home that it shares with crosstown rivals Inter Milan?
And with their first scudetto in more than a decade freshly in hand, how will Milan approach the summer’s transfer market under new ownership?
The coming weeks will determine whether the ambitions of the club’s new American owner clash with the reality of the Italian market.
Why the Formula One turnround isn’t over
Imagine thinking anyone other than Bernie Ecclestone could run Formula One.
The former car salesman, who became a billionaire on the realisation that television money would transform the eccentric sport into serious business, ruled until Liberty Media, the investment group controlled by US tycoon John Malone, acquired F1 in an $8bn deal more than five years ago.
Bernie was out, and the Americans who replaced him would have to prove themselves in a sport of firmly European tradition.
An FT Special Report on the Business of F1 assesses the turnround effort and what’s left for Liberty Media to do.
It has been no easy task, given that Ecclestone had ignored the rise of social media and prioritised older, wealthier fans.
Mercedes, co-owned by German automaker Daimler and Austrian team principal Toto Wolff, struck gold with a dominant car and a generational talent in British driver Lewis Hamilton. Most rivals didn’t have the cash to keep up; those who had the money couldn’t.
Liberty Media’s chief executive Greg Maffei knew it wouldn’t be an instant revolution. The biggest teams initially resisted plans to cap team expenditure and distribute revenues more evenly throughout the grid.
But the Covid pandemic changed the conversation. With a curtailed 17-race season and a fall in revenues, teams compromised on the proposals.
Now, investors are buying into teams thanks to a budget cap that limits spending and promotes profitability. New stars such as Mercedes driver George Russell are emerging, with younger fans getting to know the personalities behind the helmets thanks to Drive to Survive, a fly-on-the-wall series on Netflix.
Even Liberty Media’s push into America has started to pay off. Miami joined the calendar for the first time this season and Vegas will follow in November next year, adding to its usual US race in Austin.
Still, Liberty Media must prove that the American craze is more than a fad. Pumping the breaks on this year’s Russian Grand Prix resulted in losses of $40mn to $70mn and a reminder of the geopolitical risks of running a travelling circus.
F1 must keep up with technological change, as stressed in James Allen’s fascinating interview with Ferrari chief Benedetto Vigna, while the sport must also prove its climate credentials with sustainable fuel on the agenda. Separately, Hamilton, the sport’s only black driver, is leading the conversation on correcting F1’s infamous lack of diversity.
Liberty Media is sticking around nonetheless. “There’s a lot of positive flywheels, I don’t know we would want to exit,” says Maffei. “In an environment where a lot of businesses are challenged, it is pretty nice to have one that’s about hitting on every cylinder.”
France apologised for the chaos around the Uefa Champions League final in Paris, marred by mishandling of crowds outside the Stade de France ahead of Real Madrid’s 1-0 victory over Liverpool. French police were filmed spraying tear gas at fans, including children, delaying the kick-off and raising deeper questions as France prepares to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup and the Summer Olympics the following year.
Mercedes could stop supplying engines to one of its F1 team customers — McLaren, Aston Martin or Williams — because regulatory changes designed to protect the financial sustainability of smaller rivals limit what it can charge. Toto Wolff, shareholder and team principal, highlighted the changing economics of the sport in an interview with the FT’s Frankfurt correspondent, Joe Miller.
Lester Piggott, revered throughout British horseracing, died at the age of 86. Read Colin Cameron’s colourful obituary of the jockey, whose victories at famous tracks such as Epsom cemented loyal public affection despite a conviction for tax evasion in 1987.
Cathy Engelbert, commissioner of the Women’s National Basketball Association, said the league is hoping to name one or two expansion teams by the end of this year, according to The Athletic. The expansion franchises, which tentatively would begin play during the 2024 season, come months after the league raised $75mn in its first-ever funding round, valuing it at $475mn.
Coco Gauff with a message for peace after advancing to the French Open final. pic.twitter.com/NqA4FEpzS2
— On Her Turf (@OnHerTurf) June 2, 2022
The French Open women’s final this afternoon promises to be one for the ages, pitting former teenage Roland Garros champion and newly appointed world No. 1 Iga Świątek against Coco Gauff, the youngest woman to reach a Grand Slam final since Maria Sharapova in 2004. Upon her 6-3, 6-1 victory over Italy’s Martina Trevisan in the semi-final, the 18-year-old American delivered a stark message after a spate of recent mass shootings back home: “Peace. End gun violence” she wrote on the on-court camera.
Scoreboard is written by Samuel Agini and Arash Massoudi in London, Sara Germano, James Fontanella-Khan, and Anna Nicolaou in New York, with contributions from the team that produce the Due Diligence newsletter, the FT’s global network of correspondents and data visualisation team