Basketball fans will say that Mikhail Prokhorov’s ownership of the Brooklyn Nets is a massive failure. Those in the business world will vehemently disagree.
Bloomberg News reported Tuesday that Prokhorov has retained Evercore Partners to sell the franchise. The Russian billionaire paid around $220 million for 80 percent of the franchise in 2010 but could wind up selling for over $2 billion based on estimates.
"Based on the valuation of the team and the recent sale price of the (Los Angeles) Clippers one would think [they would sell] for a multiple of the valuation, but what super billionaire will step up to meet that inflated price?,” said Lou Imbriano, President and CEO of Trinity One, a marketing strategy and business advisory consultancy that specializes in sports. “Whatever the number, I expect someone will overpay. I know that's not the hard number you're looking for, but you may have to go to a psychic to get the answer, because the numbers don't seem to be adding up [in sports] when it comes to ego driven billionaires."
The Nets denied the Bloomberg report.
“As we have said for many months, ownership is always open to listening to offers – that’s just good business,” Nets spokeswoman Ellen Pinchuk said in a statement. “There is nothing imminent in terms of a sale of any stake in the team.”
The Nets took a great financial and basketball risk in the summer of 2013 by acquiring older players like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce while surrendering multiple first round draft picks. Prokhorov’s championship aspirations did not pan out as the Nets lost in the second round of the 2013-14 playoffs to the Miami Heat despite having the NBA’s highest payroll. Pierce left via free agency this past summer and the team is just 16-22 this season.
“Prokhorov above all is a businessman, so he must feel that the appreciation in franchise value since his purchase makes this a good time to sell,” said Russell Scibetti, Founding Editor of TheBusinessofSports.com. “I know there are some potentially large tax bills due based on current contracts but in the big picture, I don’t believe that plays a significant role.
“Some fans may see it this way but his legacy would also have to include the transition to Brooklyn and Barclays Center, and he was definitely willing to spend in an effort to win. In the long run, I don't think the window of time he had as owner was long enough for him to be viewed as a failure. And on the business side, buying into a New York market professional team, especially with his timing, was never going to be a bad call.”
As healthy as the New York market is – off the sports playing field – landing an NBA team is something that billionaires across the globe now covet. The league is raking in cash.
“[Things have] clearly escalated with the latest CBA and television deals driving value up even more,” Scibetti said. “To me, the price that Steve Ballmer paid for the Clippers still represents inflation from the circumstances and timing of the sale, but even accounting for an adjustment down, we will continue to see teams sell for well north of $1B, especially in premium markets.
Prokhorov promised a championship in “one year minimum” and “five years maximum” when he purchased his share of the then-New Jersey Nets in 2010. The championship hasn’t come and isn’t coming anytime soon, but Prokhorov figures to once again be a financial winner when and if a sale is complete.