Well done, tech or Wall Street mogul. You have made your fortune, so now you gaze towards another mountain to climb. For years the choice was easy: buy a sports team. But with franchise values drifting into the billions, sports are no longer a vanity purchase; they’re another cold economic calculation. It is only natural for the nouveau riche to turn instead to the value opportunity in newspapers.
For years it was lucrative and fun to own a sports team. Owners could vicariously live out their scuttled athletic dreams and hang out with the jocks who under no other circumstance would give them a high-five. And do not forget the glory and civic adulation from delivering championships. Oh, and the money was good too. The big American sports leagues (National Football League, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball) have cleverly built barriers (salary caps, limited free agency) that keep players from getting contracts that reflect their true worth. And municipalities have been repeatedly extorted to subsidise palaces for their home teams.
Meanwhile, television networks, whose advertisers adore live TV spectacles, pay billions to the owners for the rights to broadcast games. Franchises such as the Cleveland Browns football team and the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team have been sold for prices exceeding $1bn – despite not playing for a title in years. With valuations at these levels and the pushback on cable TV prices arriving, the maths even for plutocrats no longer works. Few individuals have a fortune large enough to spend a billion dollars and then risk losing money. Also, at those prices, the exit strategy is unclear: no deep bench of buyers exists.
So consider newspapers to be the real Moneyball move. The recently acquired Washington Post and Boston Globe remain elite brands with massive, albeit declining, circulations. Both were bought by billionaires for modest sums ($250m for the Post, $70m for the Globe). Not only do the new owners become erudite men of letters, but even a small turnround affirms their status as moneymaking visionaries.
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