Sunday, 14 April 2024

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How Gerry Cardinale and Billy Beane brought moneyball to soccer

How Gerry Cardinale and Billy Beane brought moneyball to soccer

Gerry Cardinale has done well in his career: two decades at Goldman Sachs, founding the nearly $10 billion private-equity firm RedBird Capital, and glittering friendships in sports and entertainment that run from George Steinbrenner to Ben Affleck to The Rock.

He’s done huge deals, such as RedBird’s $1.2 billion acquisition of the storied Italian soccer club AC Milan in 2022. But he’s got a message for those who wish to try their hand at owning a team: “Sports now is no longer a hobby for rich guys.”

“Sports is a multibillion-dollar live event entertainment business, and you have to bring relationships and multidisciplinary skill sets across a range of activities to be able to get these things done,” he tells Fortune.

For Cardinale, a prolific investor in sports and media, the bygone era of sports as a vanity project for local magnates is gone. Instead, international competition from global investors of the highest order, each with their own vast troves of capital, mean that even fun things like sports now require serious management. 

Cardinale spent 20 years at Goldman Sachs’ merchant bank working on all manner of deals with all kinds of clients, including the New York Yankees and Dallas Cowboys, two teams synonymous with big money. Cardinale helped the Yankees launch the Yankee Entertainment and Sports Network and finance their new stadium. He also has a long relationship with Cowboys owners Jerry Jones, with whom he partnered to start Legends Hospitality, a company that specializes in stadium hospitality. “My model in sports continues to be, and traditionally has been, partnering with a rights holder like a team or a league and building terminal value businesses around those rights,” Cardinale says. 

At RedBird, he’s had a knack for merging the worlds of sports and entertainment. For instance, RedBird is an investor in LeBron James’ media firm SpringHill Company, and he helped Michael B. Jordan and Ryan Reynolds invest in Formula 1 team Alpine Racing. Redbird even partnered with The Rock to buy the Xtreme Football League. 

Over the last 15 years, soccer has seen a ton of wealth pour into the sport from all over the world: oil money from the Middle East, oligarchics from Russia and Eastern Europe, and all manner of tycoons from Asia and, increasingly, America. And most of these investors have run their teams like businesses, investing hordes of money into securing lucrative sponsors, building world-class…

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