Ishbia Creates Suns, Mercury Parent Company to Set Stage for Expansion

Billionaire Mat Ishbia is rolling up his sports assets—which includes the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and the operating rights to their arena—into a new holding company that he says will better foster collaboration across the entities and provide a possible vehicle for any future acquisitions.

Called Player 15 Group, it is Ishbia’s version of prominent umbrella sports companies such as Monumental Sports & Entertainment or Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment. The combination also includes the Suns’ new G League affiliate and the $100 million downtown development Ishbia announced last year that will serve as a headquarters for the basketball teams.

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The move tracks with a wider trend in sports team ownership. Billionaires are increasingly looking at sports franchises not just as standalone businesses but as the anchors of broader business empires that encompass real estate, media and entertainment. Not only is there synergy in the operations, but Ishbia said he hopes the move will also help create a culture around one big team, working toward one common goal.

“The Mercury’s success is just as important to someone who works for the Mercury as it is for someone who works in the Suns organization or on the arena business,” Ishbia said in an interview. “We’re all part of one team. … And from a business perspective, it also brings clarity.”

Sportico values the Suns and their team-related businesses at $4 billion, the same valuation on the team when Ishbia agreed to buy a majority stake in 2022. Ishbia declined to comment on the valuation of Player 15 Group, which he added will not be raising outside money or doing venture investing like some of its peer organizations.

Ishbia, who is worth about $7.9 billion according to Forbes, said his plan is evolving after his initial Suns deal. As an example, he pointed to the $100 million development, which is part headquarters, part Mercury practice facility. He said that development was not part of his original strategy but came about after he saw a need and an opportunity.

He has also explored other sports acquisitions, both before and after the Suns deal. He kicked the tires on the NFL’s Denver Broncos and Washington Commanders during their recent sale processes, and also explored a possible investment in the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks. He said there was “nothing specific” happening on that front right now, but that he would be open to other possible acquisitions in the future. The creation of Player 15 Group would make it easier.

“Now I have a platform,” he said. “If we need to do that, we don’t have to figure out how to do it. It’s already set and teed up.”

Asked about how regional his ambitions are, he said that while he is “heavily focused” on Phoenix and Arizona, he “won’t rule out” opportunities further afield.

The Player 15 name is a reference to the last player on a basketball roster, often the one that gets the least playing time. Ishbia walked onto the Michigan State men’s basketball team in the late 1990s, and he credits the experience with helping set up his professional success and team-building philosophy. Ishbia and the Spartans won a national title under coach Tom Izzo in 2000.

These sports holding companies typically don’t form immediately. Josh Harris and David Blitzer, for example, bought the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers in 2011 and the NHL’s New Jersey Devils in 2013, but they did not formally create HBSE until 2017.

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