Six months ago, Hollywood impresario Ari Emanuel introduced Egon Durban, one of Silicon Valley’s most successful investors, to Khaldoon Al Mubarak, one of Abu Dhabi’s most powerful officials and chairman of Manchester City football club.
Last Saturday, the trio met again on a drizzly Manchester day to sign one of the biggest deals in sports history. Mr Durban, managing partner of US private equity firm Silver Lake, agreed to pay $500m for just over 10 per cent of City Football Group, the parent company of the English Premier League champions.
Afterwards, Mr Emanuel napped on a couch at CFG’s offices to sleep off the effects of a transatlantic flight the night before. Hours later, the trio celebrated as Manchester City beat Chelsea in a Premier League match. An energised Mr Durban proudly wore a scarf emblazoned with City’s blue and white colours.
The deal has helped realise Mr Durban’s ambition to embark on a new phase of his career — as a power broker in the world of entertainment, media and sport.
“He’s one of four managing partners at the most important technology private equity firm in the world,” said a Wall Street veteran who has tangled with Mr Durban. “But he’s tried to reinvent himself as something more than that, someone whose contact book stretches from Michael Dell to Elon Musk to Ari Emanuel, who can make deals that rely on bringing unique combinations of people together.”
Mr Durban’s pivot from tech to entertainment began in 2012. Then, Silver Lake bought a stake in Mr Emanuel’s Endeavor, after it had absorbed the century-old William Morris talent agency. As well as movie stars and supermodels, Endeavor also represents leading athletes such as Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic.
In early 2013, as Mr Durban was preparing to sign a $24.9bn deal to take the computer maker Dell private, he was also keeping an eye on the Golden Globes award show where WME clients were collecting trophies.
Silver Lake’s deal for CFG forms part of the private equity group’s plans to gather sports, media and entertainment groups that command the attention of millions of consumers globally. Its interests also include mixed martial arts franchise UFC, and the Miss Universe pageant, which was formerly owned by Donald Trump.
Silver Lake had sought to invest in football for several years, according to people familiar with its leadership, who said the private equity firm had also assessed clubs in the English Premier League, the world’s highest earning domestic competition, such as Chelsea, as well as other major teams in Europe.
A person close to Mr Durban said the opportunity in football is partly driven by trends in media and technology. For now, CFG continues to gain from the multibillion-dollar broadcasting deals that matches between top clubs attract. A longer-term bet is that the value of football media rights will increase even as viewers increasingly switch to watching matches online.
“We definitely see global super premium football rights values rising gently but surely,” said Claire Enders, founder of Enders Analysis, a media research group. “[Sports] franchises are valuable. Live rights even more so.”
Mr Durban settled on CFG and has valued the company at $4.8bn — by many measures, the most valuable sports group in the world — believing it had discovered a formula to “systemise” success on the pitch.
All clubs in the global network — which include sides in the US, China and Australia — are directed to play in the attractive, attacking footballing style pioneered by Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. They also benefit from shared sponsorship deals and youth player development programmes.
The football transaction also deepens Mr Durban’s ties to the Middle East. CFG is majority-owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the billionaire businessman and Abu Dhabi royal who bought Manchester City in 2008.
The knock-on effects of the deal were felt across the industry. The New York-listed shares of local rivals Manchester United on Wednesday jumped almost 13 per cent, bringing its market capitalisation to $3.1bn as investors reassessed the value of the world’s biggest football clubs.
The beautiful game is a world away from Mr Durban’s early career chasing overlooked but cash-generative castoffs of technology trends gone cold.
In the decade after the German-born investor joined Silver Lake in 1999 at the height of the dotcom boom, the firm backed washed-up companies other investors were reluctant to touch, including SunGard, a data centre operator, and Seagate, a maker of hard disc drives.
So far, Mr Durban’s financial home runs are in technology, rather than sports or show business. Skype, bought for $1.9bn in a 2009 deal led by Silver Lake, was sold to Microsoft for $8.5bn only two years later, after a bitterly fought legal dispute with the app’s founders. Silver Lake and Michael Dell have invested about $9bn in Dell, starting in 2013. Today, the shares are worth about $30bn.
It is unclear how many lessons from technology investing Mr Durban can apply in the sports and entertainment business.
Endeavor pulled an initial public offering earlier this year, after cutting the price by 15 per cent, as some investors expressed scepticism about the value of a self-described “catalyst for culture-defining content”.
And as supporters of Manchester City have been reminded this season, with their team languishing in third place in the Premier League, money does not guarantee success.
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