SPACs: What A Special Purpose Acquisition Company Means For Sports

Brendan Coffey
·11 min read

SPACs became part of the investing world’s vernacular in 2020. For sports specifically, the success of DraftKings going public by SPAC last April has sparked a wave of blank-check ventures from sports business executives and other people looking to capitalize on the valuations of sports teams, sports betting firms and technology opportunities. Sportico has identified 102 SPACs that have a sports connection or sports-focus, from one of the first SPACs – a 2008 effort by Hank Aaron and Jack Kemp – through recently formed FAST Acquisition II, a group that includes Ndamukong Suh and which likely has non-public paperwork with the Securities & Exchange Commission. All told, 29 sports-related SPACs have been formed in 2021, and have raised or want to raise a total of $9.1 billion. In 2020, 53 sports figures and sports-business SPACs raised $20.5 billion. Some of those have already closed their deals, while some $13 billion of sports-SPAC money is still in the market seeking businesses – from pro franchises to media businesses to apps.

Even as SPACs have flooded the market, they remain a vehicle only partially understood by many, so Sportico has provided a primer along with a list of sports-related SPACs identified from regulatory filings.

What are SPACs? Companies that raise money in an IPO and then find another company to buy. For that reason they’re also called blank checks: Management is given a pile of cash to find something—anything—to buy. SPACs typically state what they want to buy—say, a technology firm or a mid-sized U.K. company—but they aren’t obligated to limit themselves. Think of them as Wall Street’s cult of personality: SPAC founders—called sponsors—are essentially saying, “Trust me, I’ll pull off a great deal.” The trade-off is the clock keeps ticking: SPACs usually have two years to find an acquisition, and can’t start looking until the IPO. If they fail, SPACs need to return the money they raised back to shareholders. Plus, if shareholders don’t like the proposed acquisition, they can demand their original capital back.

Why do SPACs exist? Any company a SPAC buys could go public by its own IPO or perform a reverse merger, where it buys a company for its stock listing. IPOs demand a little more money and time than a SPAC, but mainly, companies tend to leave money on the table during an IPO, especially in bull markets. In 2020, the average IPO rallied 42% its first day of trading, according to University of Florida finance professor Jay Ritter. That means companies underpriced their stock at the IPO and missed out on $200 million on average, according to Ritter. A reverse merger is quicker and cheaper, but it’s frowned upon as a move lesser-quality companies do. Sports-centric FuboTV, however, successfully went public in 2020 by reverse merger.

What’s in it for everybody? For the SPAC, a lot. The sponsors get cheap stock when they close an acquisition. This stock, called the “promote,” often can be sizable, up to 20% of the new company. That incentivizes SPACs to buy something—anything—before their two years are up. (In higher-quality deals, the company being bought will demand SPACs slash their promote.)

For the company merging with the SPAC, it gets to go public at a market valuation it negotiates ahead of time. That means no post-IPO runaway shares that leave company executives with the nagging feeling they’ve been cheated by the bankers.

For investors? A low-risk bet. Since you can demand the initial share price back (less expenses and with interest earned) until after the pending deal is announced, your downside is protected. You’re really just paying opportunity cost—the possibility that you could have invested in something else for those two years and made money. The upside is SPACs usually throw in partial warrants for every share as incentive for investors to get in early (warrants de-couple from shares around 45 days after the SPAC IPO). Shares are usually priced at $10, with the warrants executable at $11.50. That means a popular deal can pay off handsomely.

Why are SPACs appealing in sports business? One little-discussed wrinkle is the fact a company merging with a SPAC doesn’t have to do a lot of public posturing. For an IPO, executives go on a roadshow, where they travel for a week or more to drum up interest for fund managers to buy shares. Quite frankly, a lot of successful leaders don’t want the retail politicking that comes with a roadshow, according to Don Duffy, CEO of ICR, an advisory firm that works with many SPACs. That may be a reason why sports teams and large private sports business companies are exploring going public by SPAC when they’d otherwise never consider an IPO. The downside is that if a company successfully goes public by SPAC, those executives will have to face the same attention every other public company does, Duffy noted.

Why am I hearing about SPACs everywhere? SPACs have been around in some form since the 1980s, and the idea has been around even longer, in the form of ‘blind pools’ that started out raising money to give to a general partner to find investments. Regulatory reforms – like holding IPO capital in a trust account – have made the SPAC approach more appealing for shareholders. Also, the ability of SPACs to bring in outside capital to close a deal, known as private investment in public equity – PIPE – allows firms to sidestep former abuses by hedge funds. In the past, funds would gobble up enough shares to veto a deal, forcing SPACs to alter proposed merger terms in the hedge fund’s favor to earn approval. Now, thanks to PIPE financing, a SPAC doesn’t actually need a majority of shareholders to vote in favor to consummate a deal. All of that has made SPACs more popular than ever, according to data from SPACalpha, a researcher. Through the first six weeks of 2021, 275 SPACs have filed or held their IPO – more than all of 2020. Here is the Sportico list of all the sports-related SPACs:

Sports-Focused SPACs

890 5th Avenue Partners, named after the fictional Avengers Mansion, is from media veterans John Kosner and Emiliano Calemzuk. It’s looking to raise $250 million and has identified sports media, sports betting, esports and fitness platforms as potential targets.

Acies has its eyes on live events, including “sports, sports betting and iGaming.” Former MGM executive James Murren leads the firm, and Zach Leonsis of Monumental Sports (Washington’s Wizards, Capitals) is on the board of directors. Acies has $200 million to deploy.

Athlon Acquisition is focused on fitness technology and is seeking $200 million. Boston Celtics owners Wyc Grousbeck and Mark Wan as well as Paraag Marathe, who works for the San Francisco 49ers, and Live Nation’s Jared Smith are involved.

BowX aims to use its connections in the “sports and entertainment world, including athletes and entertainers” to find a business in technology, media and/or entertainment. Sponsor and Sacramento Kings chairman Vivek Randavivé has $420 million to use.

Bull Horn IPO’d for $75 million for a sports and entertainment business. Sports marketer Rob Striar, Como 1907’s Michael Gandler and NBA veteran Baron Davis are involved.

dMY Tech II is merging with Genius Sports in a deal valued at $1.5 billion that should close by early 2021. dMY II collected $276 million from its IPO.

Marquee Raine considers a sports team, gaming business or media enterprise fair game for its $374 million. It’s led by Chicago Cubs co-owner Tom Ricketts as well as bankers from Raine Group.

Monument Circle is former Seattle Mariners owner Jeff Smulyan’s venture. It wants to raise $200 million for sports media.

PTK is led by tech veterans who are looking to use $100 million they have raised to get a gaming or esports business, possibly in the Asia Pacific region.

RedBall, led by RedBird founder Gerry Cardinale and Oakland A’s executive Billy Beane, raised $575 million for a sports team or related media or analytics firm. Maybe the Boston Red Sox?

Sports Entertainment, which boasts an NFL-heavy team (Eric Shumway, John Collins, Natalia Shumway), raised $400 million to pursue a sports-focused tech company.)

Sports Ventures, from Atlanta Falcons limited partner Alan Kestenbaum, Rob Tillis of Inner Circle Sports and Daniel Strauss of SportBLX, wants $200 million for a sports media effort.

Tekkorp Digital is led by executives in the casino gaming and sports betting fields from Scientific Games and William Hill. They have collected $250 million to buy into digital media or sports.

Vistas Media sees esports, media or gaming as a potential field for an acquisition. Management, which has a background in India and crypto, has raised $100 million.

Sports Executive-Led SPACs

Altitude is a SPAC from Gavin Isaacs, a director of DraftKings and long-time gaming tech executive. It’s looking at travel with its $261 million.

Ascendant Digital is looking at the “attention economy,” including esports. U.K. video game developer Mark Gerhard has $414 million to deploy.

Avanti is a vehicle of billionaire Nassef Sawiris, who owns part of Aston Villa and equity in MSG Sports. He’s searching for a European company with strong connections to the U.S. and has raised $600 million.

Bright Lights includes entertainment executives and baseball, basketball and soccer team owners Peter Guber and Michael Mahan. Its goal is to raise $200 million to find a celebrity-driven business.

Capitol Investment V is led by tennis tournament owner Mark Ein and Raul Fernandez, part owner of Washington, D.C.’s NHL, NBA and WNBA squads. It raised $300 million to look for a growth business.

Decarbonization Plus priced $200 million of shares to get into cleantech. It’s led by Erik Anderson, who is also chairman of TopGolf Entertainment, a driving range and golf tech company.

East Resources is Buffalo Bills owner Terry Pegula’s gambit to get back into domestic natural gas, where he made his billions. The firm has $345 million in capital.

FirstMark Horizon is a $414 million SPAC from Rick Heitzmann, who was involved in StubHub, DraftKings and Riot Games. DraftKings CEO Jason Robins is on the board of the firm, which is looking at technology acquisitions.

FG New America priced a $225 million IPO to seek financial services companies. It’s led by Joe Moglia, the former coach and current executive director for football at Coastal Carolina. Moglia was also chairman of TD Ameritrade until it merged with Schwab in October.

Foley Trasimene I and II. Vegas Knights owner William Foley raised $1.035 billion in May looking for a “utility-like” company in financial technology and then $1.467 billion in August with the second SPAC, which is buying gaming payment solutions company Paysafe.

Forest Road has Shaquille O’Neal as an advisor. The Hollywood-heavy team raised $261 million seeking to enter the media business.

Horizon‘s Todd Boehly, a Los Angeles Dodgers limited partner and investor in a dozen other sports-related companies, has $544 million seeking a financial services business.

Jaws Spitfire recently added Serena Williams to its board of directors as it seeks consumer technology with $300 million in capital.

Landcadia III is the third SPAC from Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta. It has $500 million looking for gaming or other consumer entertainment tech firms.

Liberty Media has a self-named SPAC looking for media buys. The Atlanta Braves and Formula One parent expects to IPO for $500 million.

NewHold Investment is looking to spend $150 million in industrial technology. Long-time New York Jets president Neil Glat is on the board of directors.

Northern Star, from New York Islanders owner Jon Ledecky, is acquiring dog products firm BarkBox. It raised $250 million at its IPO.

Omnichannel, led by Miami Dolphins vice chair Matt Higgins, raised $200 million for cross-channel retail.

Social Capital Hedosophia IV, V and VI have raised $460 million, $805 million and $1.15 billion, respectively, seeking tech companies—possibly in sports data or streaming, based on public comments by sponsor Chamath Palihapitiya, a part owner of the Golden State Warriors.

Tailwind has $300 million for gaming, esports and wagering deals. Wisdom Lu, a sports and media banker at Kobe Bryant-founded Bryant Stibel, is a director. A SPAC named Tailwind Two filed a name registration with the SEC earlier this month.

Trebia is another SPAC from William Foley, the owner of the NHL’s Las Vegas franchise. The company has $518 million to spend from its IPO, likely on a software or fintech company.

TPG Pace Tech has $450 million in a hunt for tech companies while TPG Pace Beneficial Finance has $350 million for ESG finance. David Bonderman, majority owner of the Seattle Kraken, is on the boards of each.

Yucaipa Acquisition hasn’t a specific target besides wanting a turnaround project. Pittsburgh Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle leads this $300 million effort.

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