An NFL Game-Changer

Seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady wants to co-own a National Football League (NFL) franchise. Eli Manning, who led the underdog New York Giants to two Super Bowl victories against Brady and the New England Patriots, also wants to buy a team.

The rival quarterbacks, now retired, are emerging as likely bidders just as the NFL reevaluates its strict ownership rules.

For years, the NFL stiff-armed private equity firms that wanted a seat at the negotiating table. It also banned public corporations and sovereign wealth funds. And it required a team’s primary owner to hold at least a 30% stake in a franchise.

When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell asked a committee to vote on tweaking those rules last month, a Who’s Who of NFL owners gathered in Nashville, Tennessee: Clark Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs, Robert Kraft of the Patriots, Arthur Blank of the Atlanta Falcons, Jimmy Haslam of the Cleveland Browns, and Greg Penner of the Denver Broncos.

But they delayed the vote. Goodell subsequently confirmed, cryptically, that the group expects “something” by the end of 2024.

Specifics still need to be ironed out. How large a stake could a private equity firm buy? How many teams could a single firm invest in? How many firms could invest in one team? The answers remain unknown.

Several firms are reportedly discussing the change. They include Arctos Partners, Ares Management, Avenue Capital Group, the Carlyle Group, and CVC Capital Partners.

The private equity industry, which counts Manning’s Brand Velocity Group, has some $4 trillion in so-called dry powder at its disposal. Proponents of the rule changes argue that the new money could back large projects, like new stadiums.

Owners also think selling minority stakes to private equity firms—commonplace in other sports—could mean quicker exits and less tax. However, in recent years, the NFL has kept several deep-pocketed private equity investors on the sidelines.

Apollo co-founder Josh Harris offered to buy the Washington Commanders for $6 billion. There was also José E. Feliciano and Behdad Eghbali (founders of Clearlake Capital Group), who lost the Broncos auction to Walmart heir Rob Walton, for $4.65 billion. And Ben Navarro lost out on the Carolina Panthers to billionaire David Tepper’s $2.3 billion offer.

Editor’s Note: This article previously reported that Clearlake bid on the Broncos. This has been corrected.