LeBron James Tipped To Front Major £2bn Next Move For Liverpool Owners FSG

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Basketball legend LeBron James and Liverpool’s owners FSG have been tipped to take on an NBA expansion team in Las Vegas

For Liverpool owners Fenway Sports Group, 2022 was always likely to carry on how 2021 ended, with the search for more sports teams to add to their empire to help its growth one of the main priorities.

Back in November FSG secured a takeover of the Pittsburgh Penguins NHL team in a deal valued at around £650m but which would see the existing management structure remain in place.

While expansion might not have been on the cards for many during the pandemic, FSG’s injection of capital from RedBird Capital Partners back in March of 2021, where $750m arrived into Fenway in exchange for 11 per cent of the empire, allowed them the room to manoeuvre and maintain their plans despite the financial chaos that COVID-19 was causing sport.

It provided cash flow to continue investment into off-the-field projects such as the Anfield Road End redevelopment in Liverpool and the major regeneration to the real estate around Fenway Park Stadium in Boston, the home of FSG’s Boston Red Sox, as well as money for growth and acquisition, with the Penguins the first part of the ‘FSG 3.0’ plan that FSG partner and Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy had mooted last year.

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FSG are understood to be looking at a variety of different markets and different sports, among them the potential growth that is expected to be seen in Brazilian football through pending organisational change and more control to drive up media revenues. FSG have already been linked in Brazilian media with interest in Cruzeiro, since bought by the legendary Ronaldo, as well as Athletico Paranaense and Internacional.

But basketball has been widely tipped to be the organisation’s next major move, with a potential NBA acquisition something that both Kennedy and Liverpool and FSG chairman Tom Werner have refused to rule out.

Basketball icon LeBron James saw his role within FSG become more prominent over the past 12 months due to him converting his two per cent stake in Liverpool, which he had held since 2011, into one per cent of FSG’s overall business, now worth around $9.8bn.

James, 37, still continues to play at an elite level in the NBA for the Los Angeles Lakers but has intimated recently that he will be done with basketball when he gets the chance to play with his son, Bronny, in the league, something that could arrive as early as 2023 should James junior be drafted, as is expected, one year removed from finishing his high school education.

FSG are already tied in with James through Nike, Liverpool’s kit supplier, with James a lifetime $1bn client of the US sportswear giant. FSG, Nike and RedBird also invested into James and his business partner Maverick Carter’s SpringHill Entertainment business last year. Carter became an FSG partner following the RedBird investment into the club in 2021.

James has expressed a desire to be an NBA team owner in the future, following the same path that Michael Jordan has. And while teams were mooted as having the potential to be acquired by FSG, reports in America suggest that FSG and James’ move into the NBA could happen with a team that hasn’t even been formed yet, with an expansion franchise a potential target.

NBA insider Bill Simmons, founder of The Ringer and boasting a social media following of 5.6m, told a Mediaite podcast that Las Vegas and Seattle were potential markets for NBA expansion and that FSG and James were at the front of the queue.

The Emmy-winning program created by Paul Rivera and Randy Mims for Uninterrupted is relocating from HBO exclusively to YouTube. The series premiered in August 2018.

“I have some intel and I think the league is going to expand to Vegas and to Seattle,” Simmons said.

“I think the leading contender to get that expansion team is going to be Fenway Sports Group. They have Liverpool, they have the Red Sox, they bought the Penguins. They have been circling different NBA teams for a while – I think they looked at Minnesota.

“I think that they are the leading contender to Vegas.

“If I had to bet on a LeBron scenario then I would be that he would be involved with whatever happens with that. He would be the point man of that Vegas team.

“I haven’t heard it get mentioned and I don’t care if it gets aggregated because I think I’m right. I think that is ‘Scenario A’ for LeBron.”

Accepting expansion teams into American sports leagues requires existing team owners to vote, and given that expansion teams eat into the revenue pot for media rights that teams share it isn’t always a move that is viewed favourably.

But with James’ involvement and the potential for the funds from the sale of the rights to the expansion teams to be split between the 30 NBA teams, Simmons believes that the ability to bank a cheque for around $200m for each team would be viewed favourably by owners as they seek ways to bounce back from the heavy losses and financial distress that was caused by Covid.

“I had heard combined that it would be $6.5bn to $7bn for the two teams,” Simmons told Mediaite.

“You’re talking 30 teams splitting the $6.5bn for those two teams. You are getting a cheque for $200m each, which would cover a lot of the stuff lost over the last two years.

“They want LeBron to be the point man of the team and they want this to be done with LeBron.”

Speaking to Forbes’ Sports Money show last month, Werner hinted at a future FSG move into the NBA involving James.

The Liverpool chairman said: “(Owning an NBA team) is certainly something that we would look at. We don’t have a secret piece of paper that says, ‘let’s go acquire an NBA team’.

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“LeBron James has made no secret that at some point he would like to be involved in ownership and he is a wonderful partner, so we’ll see how that goes.”

In 2017, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said that while expansion wasn’t imminent it was ‘inevitable’. And with revenues now set to generate record levels of more than $10bn, the NBA can afford to expand, with Seattle, who lost the Sonics franchise when it moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder in 2008, a frontrunner, as well as Las Vegas where a clutch of major franchises have arrived in recent years, including the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders and the NHL’s Las Vegas Golden Knights.

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