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NBA Warriors for sale. Hear that, Larry Ellison?

By Ben Klayman

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The Golden State Warriors basketball team said on Monday it is for sale, beginning a process that could attract a record price and interest from overseas bidders, and from Silicon Valley billionaire executive Larry Ellison.

The National Basketball Association team said it has hired Galatioto Sports Partners to conduct the sale, but declined further comment.

Galatioto Sports Partners President Sal Galatioto had no comment; but speculation has swirled for several months that Warriors owner Christopher Cohan might sell the team. Cohan bought the Warriors in 1995, and in 2004 sold a 20 percent stake for an undisclosed amount to a group of four investors.

Bankers and analysts who follow the sports industry said the Warriors could fetch a record price and draw interest from buyers overseas, including Asia. The Phoenix Suns were purchased in 2004 for a league-record $401 million.

"If a bidding war erupts, we could see this deal exceeding $400 million," said Marc Ganis, president of sports consulting firm Sportscorp Ltd. "Because of the potential size of the (Bay area) market it plays in, this is a team that has a lot of upside potential."

However, a sports banker, who asked not to be identified discussing an ongoing sale, said concerns that could dampen bidding include a possible work stoppage next year and the league's financial struggles.

"There's an opportunity to get a basketball team at a reasonable price, but there's a lot of risk," said the banker, who figured the team could attract bids of $350 million to $400 million. "The NBA needs some fixing."

NBA Commissioner David Stern said last month the league could lose around $400 million this year due to the weak economy and a crippling labor agreement with its players.

The NBA's current labor deal runs through the 2010-2011 season, and the owners want to reduce the players' share of basketball-related income, pointing to a possible lockout by the owners or a strike by the players.

Ellison is likely to have interest. The brash, 65-year-old chief executive officer of Oracle Corp said at a company meeting in January that he was interested in the Oakland, California-based team.

"I'm trying. I'm trying. Unfortunately, you cannot have a hostile takeover in basketball," Ellison said when asked by a fan whether he would buy the Warriors, which play home games at Oracle Arena.

An Oracle spokeswoman declined to comment.

Forbes magazine estimated this month that Ellison, who co-founded Oracle, is the world's sixth-richest man, worth about $28 billion. In February, Ellison, an accomplished ocean racer, won the America's Cup sailing race.

The magazine in December estimated the Warriors were worth $315 million, down 6 percent from the prior year's list and ranking 18th out of 30 teams.

Last week, the NBA approved former all-star Michael Jordan's purchase of the Charlotte Bobcats for a reported $275 million.

The Warriors also could attract overseas interest. Chinese investors in December agreed to buy a stake in the Cleveland Cavaliers, while Russia's richest man Mikhail Prokhorov reached a deal last September to buy control of the New Jersey Nets. Both deals still need league approval.

(Additional reporting by Jim Finkle in Boston, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)