The news that former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will buy the Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion is quite remarkable when you stop and think about it. Consider that just a few months ago, Forbes valued the team at around $575 million. Even more remarkable might be the fact that former owner Donald Sterling purchased the team in 1981 for only $12.5 million.
The fact remains that professional sports teams are great investments. The teams benefit from lucrative TV contracts as well as game day ticket and concession sales. The Clippers are located in Los Angeles, the second-largest media market in the US, and this makes the team especially valuable because of its large fan base.
According to Forbes, the most valuable NBA franchise is the NY Knicks. It valued the team at $1.4 billion when it put the $575 million figure on the Clippers. If the Clippers are worth $2 billion, well how much are the Knicks worth now?
One of the best plays on sports entertainment
Investors can capitalize on America's love of sports by investing in The Madison Square Garden Company (NYSE:MSG), which owns the NY Knicks. The company also owns the Madison Square Garden Arena, the NY Rangers, NY Liberty, the Hartford Wolf Pack, and the MSG television network. Madison Square Garden just sold its Fuse music television channel to Jennifer Lopez and her NuvoTV for $226 million in cash and a 15% stake in the combined Fuse/NuvoTV.
The real value of Madison Square Garden is its ownership of the NY Knicks. The Knicks are considered one of the premier trophy properties in all of sports. The Clippers sold for such an outrageous sum because sports teams in a large market like Los Angeles rarely become available. When they do, billionaires line up in bidding wars.
The Clippers have now set the bar at a $2 billion valuation. Most experts value the Los Angeles Lakers at over $3 billion if the Buss family ever decides to sell. What makes the Knicks more valuable than the Lakers is the fact that they're in the number one media market in the U.S. and come with their own arena. The Lakers do not own the Staples Center where they play--Madison Square Garden owns the arena where the Knicks play.
Other unique entertainment investments
It's hard not to think of Disney (NYSE:DIS) when you think of entertainment companies. Some 46% of its revenue derives from media networks, with 31% from parks and resorts. It has an impressive suite of networks, but its ESPN brand makes it an interesting play in sports entertainment. Other key brands include ABC, Marvel Entertainment, Touchstone Pictures, and Lucasfilm.
Over the long term, Disney plans to put more money to work in its resorts business in an effort to increase its market share and create steady long-term growth opportunities.
Liberty Interactive (NASDAQ:QVCA) is another unique investment. The company runs QVC networks, Backcountry.com, and Bodybuilding.com. It also has interests in HSN and Expedia. Its e-commerce business in the U.S. accounts for roughly 50% of its U.S. revenue.
Another unique angle to Liberty is that QVC owns 4.8 million shares of TripAdvisor, for which it paid $300 million. It owns roughly 22% of the travel review company. It also has a strong presence in international markets. International revenue at QVC makes up around a quarter of its revenue, but that number is expected to jump to 50% within five years.
How the shares stack up
Madison Square Garden does trade at the highest P/E ratio of the three, but it has no debt. Madison Square Garden trades at a 35 P/E ratio, compared to 33.4 for Liberty and 22 for Disney. Disney does pay a dividend (yielding 1%), while the other two do not.
Digging a bit deeper, Wall Street does expect Madison Square Garden to grow earnings per share next year at the highest rate of the three at 21.3%. Analysts expect 10.4% EPS growth from Disney and 18% from Liberty.
Madison Square Garden is one of the more interesting investments in the sports entertainment space. Its shares don't appear all that cheap on the surface, but considering its diverse business model, it has a number of growth opportunities. For investors looking for a unique investment in the entertainment industry, Madison Square Garden is worth a closer look.