SO YOU WANT TO OWN A TEAM? THE BUSINESS OF SPORTS
(FORTUNE Magazine) – Look through the Florida Panthers' official merchandise catalogue, and you'd think every possible way to own a piece of the Fort Lauderdale-based hockey team is being exploited. After all, once you own a limited-edition Florida Panthers playoff cap ($19, but it's one of only 2,400!), a 1996 playoff game ticket ($69, individually numbered and enclosed in Lucite ice), and an exclusive 1996 Florida Panthers hockey stick puck holder ($29), what more could you possibly buy? The team itself?
Well, yes, actually. Pending SEC approval, you will soon be able to buy stock in the Florida Panthers (at $10 a share, it's a bargain compared with the merchandise). But before you rush out to buy the stock, pausing only to throw on your Panthers replica air-knit jersey ($79), you might want to ponder the record of the only other publicly traded major sports franchise: the Boston Celtics.
The Celtics, listed on the New York Stock Exchange as the Boston Celtics Limited Partnership (NYSE: BOS), went public in 1986--the last year they won the NBA championship. Despite their sterling record to that point and their legendarily rabid (and forgiving) fan base, the partnership has not been a champ for investors. Had you bought in at the IPO ten years ago, your total return to date (assuming reinvested dividends) would come to 241%--not bad, but not great either, considering that in the same period the S&P 500 index saw a total return of 282%.
The Celtics' returns may diminish as time goes on. Since they are a partnership rather than a stock, the Celtics' value depends less on management's ability to grow the business--how are you really going to grow a basketball team, anyway?--than on its ability to consistently generate earnings for distribution back to the partners. But since the NBA's salary cap has become riddled with loopholes, the team's margins are being increasingly squeezed by player salaries. Even Joe DiLorenzo, a Celtics spokesman, acknowledges, "Certainly, salaries are going up at a much greater pace than revenues or profits." The same thing is happening in hockey: The Panthers' salaries have doubled since the team's rookie season two years ago. Both the Celtics and the Panthers point to their leagues' collective- bargaining agreements as one reason that player costs might be controlled, but past experience tells us that star athletes tend to find a way to get paid. Compounding the Panthers' problems is the fact that the team plays in the tiny Miami Arena and has to give over most of its revenues from big-ticket items like suites and advertising to the arena's primary tenant, the Miami Heat basketball team. The Panthers plan to move to a bigger arena in time for the 1998-99 season, but until then they predict net losses of up to $20 million a year. Their prospectus notes, not surprisingly, that they have no plans for a dividend "in the foreseeable future."
Okay, so the prospects for a big return on your investment aren't great. But what about the thrill of ownership? Well, as any owner of the Boston Celtics Limited Partnership can tell you, the joys of being a limited partner are, um, limited. The Celtics hold no annual meetings, and partners have no voting rights. In other words, no matter how much you own, they really don't care what you have to say about their draft picks. The Panthers' IPO, according to their prospectus, is similarly structured. While there are 7.3 million shares of the publicly traded Class A stock, team owner H. Wayne Huizenga would be the sole owner of 250,000 shares of Class B stock, each of which has 10,000 times more voting power than one share of Class A stock. Huizenga evidently doesn't like to leave much to chance.
So: no voting power, no dividend, and a projected loss for at least the next two years. Clearly, Florida Panthers Holdings isn't a stock you're going to see in the Berkshire Hathaway annual report anytime soon. So where will you find it? Most likely, in Christmas stockings all over Florida--as parents and grandparents give pintsize sports fans a little piece of their favorite team. In this, too, the Panthers' stock would mirror the Celtics': Of the units tracked by the Celtics partnership, over 90% are owned by individuals who hold ten units or less.
So don't buy Panthers Class A to make money; buy it as a little piece of sports memorabilia, just like the 1996 Inaugural Game commemorative limited-edition puck ($5).