Canzano: No wiggle room -- NFL's Seahawks and NBA's Blazers must be sold
Paul G. Allen Trust is very specific.
Those familiar with the details of the Paul G. Allen Trust tell me there isn’t a lot of wiggle room for trustee, Jody Allen. The trust was established in 1993 and includes billions in assets, including the NBA’s Trail Blazers and NFL’s Seattle Seahawks.
“Paul directed that the trust be liquidated upon his death and the assets used to fund his passion projects,” a source said. “None of this is up in the air. The instructions are clear: The sports franchises and everything in the trust must be sold.”
Allen died in October 2018. His luxury yachts and some real estate holdings have already been liquidated. But the fate of his NBA and NFL franchises still hang in the balance. Insiders expect the Blazers to be positioned for auction in the next 6-18 months. The Seahawks could follow shortly after, but sources say Jody Allen may be wrangling to keep a piece of the NFL franchise.
Some interesting things:
• A sitting team president of an NBA franchise told me it’s unlikely that the league’s owners would allow the Trail Blazers to relocate to Seattle after a potential sale. “That’s a no-go,” he said. The prevailing sentiment is that Seattle and Las Vegas have already been unofficially earmarked for NBA expansion and the current owners would prefer to avoid cannibalizing what would be a windfall of $6 billion in combined expansion fees.
• Jody Allen’s interest in remaining an owner of the Seahawks is unconfirmed. However, an insider at Vulcan, Inc. said this week that he believed Jody was slow-playing the potential sale of the NFL team — leaving the Seahawks for last — because she had interest in retaining an ownership stake.
• Bert Kolde, the vice chair of the Blazers, has been put in charge of the auction of the late Allen’s beloved NBA franchise. Kolde is said to be closely following the auction of the NFL’s Denver Broncos that began in February. Kolde’s target price for the NBA franchise: $3 billion. The Blazers were valued at $1.7 billion when Allen died.
• A number of potential ownership groups have been rumored to be interested in pursuing the Trail Blazers. Among the names that I have heard as possible majority owners: Oracle Corporation co-founder Larry Ellison, philanthropist MacKenzie Scott and Laurene Powell-Jobs. Ellison has unsuccessfully attempted to buy NBA teams on three occasions. Scott is the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Powell-Jobs, the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, is an executive and businesswoman.
Those watching the Seahawks and Blazers closely see some obvious parallels. Both franchises have cut salary and appear to be getting the balance sheet in order. Both are included in the trust. Both are directed to be sold at some point.
At what price?
And to whom?
Those are the questions to ask right now. NBA rules require that ownership groups be no larger than 25 members. One individual owner must have controlling interest and hold a minimum share of 15 percent. Private equity firms can hold up to 15 percent ownership share, but have no voting rights and no seat at the NBA’s Board of Governors meetings.
The league’s domestic television rights are wrapped up in this, too. Each NBA franchise currently receives north of $80 million annually from the league’s current TV deal with ESPN and Turner Sports. Industry experts expect to see a monumental increase ($275 million to $300 million per team) when the contract is re-upped beginning in 2025.
All of this is fueling speculation in NBA and NFL circles, of course. Also, the prevailing thought is that the group currently handling the auction of the Broncos will also handle the potential auction of the Blazers, and eventually, the Seahawks.
“Keep an eye on the losing bidders in the Broncos auction,” one source said. “There are a limited number of billionaire bidders and private-equity firms. The firm in charge of the auction will build a book. That book will be seen by very few eyes.”
Allen & Company is running the sale for the Broncos. Managing director, Steve Greenberg, is the point person on the auction. Denver’s NFL team is expected to fetch a final sales price between $4 billion and $5 billion.
Ellison, 77, is a predictable possible bidder. He missed on the Warriors, Grizzlies and Pelicans, after all. But the emergence of Scott as a potential professional sports-franchise owner raised some eyebrows.
Scott, 52, has a net worth of more than $33 billion. She hasn’t publicly expressed interest in buying an NBA team. She’s spent her time and money on a number of philanthropic endeavors in the last year. But insiders tell me they believe NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and the league’s owners would welcome the addition of a high-profile female majority owner.
Powell-Jobs, 58, is the second largest investor in Monumental Sports & Entertainment and was one of the investors in a $75 million round of capital funding for the WNBA. She has a net worth of $15 billion.
The Paul G. Allen Trust is massive and complex. But those who have laid eyes on it tell me that the fate of Allen’s professional sports franchises isn’t murky.
The franchises are to be sold.
Here’s hoping they end up in good hands.
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