Within the sports industry, investment banking is an ultra-competitive, lucrative niche market long dominated by boutique firms focused almost exclusively on this activity. The bigger players in banking are expressing more interest in muscling in. They've had some success, but the small fish won't be pushed out without a fight.

There is no official ranking of deals completed by sports industry bankers. Here we review three firms that focus almost exclusively on this sector and have cultivated the reputations necessary to keep the deals flowing.

Key Takeaways

  • Sports investment banking is a profitable niche dominated by small firms specializing in finance and advisory services for investors in sports teams.
  • Services include debt and equity capital financing, buy-side and sell-side advice, and debt refinancing.
  • Three major players in this niche part of the investment banking industry are Galatioto Sports Partners, Inner Circle Sports and Game Plan.

Galatioto Sports Partners

Galatioto Sports Partners is led by Sal Galatioto, a banker with more than 20 years of experience involving more than 100 transactions. Galatioto Sports Partners have represented the ownership and management of major league teams such as the New York Yankees, New York Mets, New York Jets, New York Giants, Chicago Cubs, Golden State Warriors and a score of others. His Wall Street experience includes leading sports advisory business at Lehman Brothers and SG Cowen Securities. Sal Galatioto is perhaps the most well-known player in sports finance and advisory business. He founded his company in 2005.

Galatioto Sports Partners is putting together a $500 million investment vehicle, the GSP Baseball Fund, to buy minority stakes in Major League Baseball clubs. The fund will accept 100 investors maximum, with a minimum investment of $1 million. It has three divisions that focus on advisory services, which include buy-side and sell-side mergers and acquisitions (M&A), and debt and equity capital financing. In 2019, the company advised transactions involving the San Francisco Giants, Yankee Global Enterprises, Florida Panthers, Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Blues. 

Inner Circle Sports

Innner Circle Sports specializes in corporate financing (including buy-side and sell-side advice), acquisitions, facility financing and consulting. Rob Tilliss, who has more than 20 years of experience and previously worked at J.P. Morgan and Fortress Investment Group, founded the boutique investment bank in 2002.

Prominent deals include the 2015 sale of the Atlanta Hawks to a group led by billionaire Antony Ressler for a reported $850 million. Inner Circle Sports and Goldman Sachs (GS) represented the seller in the transaction. In 2017, it advised former Disney chief executive Michael Eisner in his $7.5 million purchase of Portsmouth F.C., a football club in the south of England. 

Inner Circle also has worked with international clients. In 2013, it helped Indonesian businessman Erick Thohir acquire a 70% stake in Italian football club Inter Milan for $340 million.  It has also represented clients in transactions involving the Kansas City Royals, Atlanta Falcons, New York Mets, Memphis Grizzlies, Barnsley F.C., Arizona Coyotes, Crystal Palace F.C., the New York Islanders and a host of other teams.

Game Plan

Game Plan is led by lawyer Robert Caporale and Randel Vataha, a former player for the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers. The firm handles team sales and acquisitions, financing and debt refinancing, equity capital raising, stadium and arena financing, along with credit card processing. It has represented clients in transactions involving the Sacramento Kings, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Celtics and St. Louis Blues. In 2016, Game Plan helped businessman John Sherman acquire a minority stake in the Cleveland Indians. 

Expertise Comes in Smaller Packages

These boutique investment banks typically have fewer than a dozen employees, but that doesn't imply anything about their knowledge of the sports industry, network of relationships or expertise in getting deals done. Often, they can apply the thorough and in-depth analysis required with a personal touch that a sports investors may not get from a large firm. As the giants of Wall Street seek bigger pieces of the sports industry pie, these smaller firms will have a tough fight, but the best of them are prepared for the battle.