Dec 5, 2019

The City Football Group empire

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Map: Aïda Amer/Axios

Private equity giant Silver Lake Partners has agreed to invest $500 million for a ~10% stake in City Football Group, owner of reigning English Premier League champs, Manchester City, and seven other soccer clubs around the world.

Why it matters: The deal makes CFG, now valued at $4.8 billion, the world's most valuable soccer group, as well as the second most valuable enterprise in all of sports, trailing only the Dallas Cowboys, per Forbes.

  • It also makes Manchester City, which is CFG's biggest asset by far, the single richest soccer club — leapfrogging Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Details:

  • CFG is 77% owned by Abu Dhabi United Group, an investment vehicle owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, a member of the royal family of the United Arab Emirates.
  • Silver Lake is a Silicon Valley-based technology investor with a clear appetite for sports, having also invested in the UFC and sports marketing giant IMG.

The backdrop: After buying Manchester City in 2008 and quickly turning it into a juggernaut on and off the field through massive spending, CFG began purchasing teams in key global markets, hoping to replicate its success elsewhere.

Timeline:

How it works: Each club has one person in charge of the business (COO) and one person in charge of the soccer (director), both of whom report to CFG. In certain cases, women's teams have also been launched and brought into the fold.

  • Shared resources: Underpinning each individual club is a shared services group, which helps with things like scouting and analytics. Teams also benefit from sharing coaches, doctors and even press officers.
  • Shared learnings: Injury research can be shared across clubs to help improve recovery times. Customer data from Australia can be shared to help sell more tickets in Uruguay. If a coach sees something on film, he might send it to another coach to analyze. Overall, central planning ensures that the best ideas are disseminated throughout the group.
  • Giant farm system: If a Manchester City academy player has talent, but isn't quite ready for the Premier League, he can easily be sent to a satellite team in a less demanding league.
  • Coaching development: Patrick Vieira coached Manchester City's Elite Development Squad for three years before being promoted and put in charge of NYCFC. (He's now a favorite to become the next Arsenal manager.)

The bottom line: CFG is at the apex of what it means to be a 21st century sports business — a mixture of sports, content/media, technology and worldwide reach.

  • As the globalization of sports continues to gain steam, CFG has placed strategic outposts across five continents and amassed an army of 2,000 staff and 1,500 players who play a combined 2,500 games per season.
  • "It is on this basis that Silver Lake has invested in what was once a football club with historic roots in the working class communities of east Manchester, but is now a global entertainment business," writes Quartz's Simon Chadwick.

Go deeper: Inside the Manchester City Football Group (Book excerpt)

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