Friday, March 7, 2008

Stern Says NBA May Have First Foreign Owner in 18-24 Months

March 7 (Bloomberg) -- National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern said someone from outside North America probably will become the first foreign owner of one of his league's existing teams in the next 18-24 months.
Investors from China and the Persian Gulf have asked about buying teams that weren't for sale, Stern said in an interview. No sale is in the works, he added.
U.S. teams are attractive to overseas investors partly because of the decline in value of the U.S. dollar, which has lost against 15 of 16 most-actively traded currencies in the past five years. It has fallen 48 percent against the Euro in that period, with one Euro now worth $1.53.
``Our valuations are high,'' Stern said in an interview. ``But from their perspective, given the increased valuation of foreign currency, they are getting cheaper.''
Foreign investors purchased $387 billion of U.S. companies in 2007, up 54 percent from the previous year, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The most active investors include those from Canada, Britain and Australia.
The Seattle Mariners baseball club, owned by the U.S. arm of Kyoto, Japan-based video-game maker Nintendo Co., are the only team in the four major North American sports held by an overseas concern.
Interest From Abroad
Stern said he is basing his prediction on interest from overseas investors, the inevitability of team sales and the league's willingness to accept foreign ownership. The falling dollar, as well as basketball's popularity in China and the NBA's plan to place five expansion teams in Europe within a decade also play a role.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said in his blog on Feb. 29 that he also expects more foreign ownership of North American sports teams because of the falling dollar.
``A quick trip to NYC to shop for currency-induced bargains need not stop on Fifth or Madison Ave.,'' Cuban said. ``It is just a matter of time, and maybe not much of it, before we start to see our sports teams gobbled up.''
In January, Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN and four Chinese investors agreed to pay $253 million for an 11 percent stake in the NBA's operations in that country.
The group was composed of Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka- Shing, Bank of China Ltd., China Merchants Bank Co. and Legend Holdings Ltd. Ka-Shing is the richest man in Asia with a $23 billion fortune, according to Forbes magazine. NBA China will have the right to create teams in the country and own all broadcasting and merchandising rights.
``Investors are looking at all of our activities -- media, digital activities, marketing partnerships with leading corporations, real estate through arena development on a global scale,'' Stern said. ``We want to talk to these people when money is cheap and see if they think sports franchises are something worth investing in.''

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