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The NBA released its most popular jersey list based on the first half of the regular season. LeBron James and Stephen Curry — who led the NBA in All-Star voting — were the top two, followed by Giannis Antetokounmpo. Ja Morant, No. 7, cracked the top 10 for the first time.
Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports/Design: Alex Brooks
Major League Soccer has reportedly entered an exclusive negotiating agreement with billionaires Wes Edens and Naseef Sawiris to bring the league’s 30th team to Las Vegas.
The league has been working to expand from 27 to 30 teams, with Charlotte FC beginning play this season and St. Louis kicking off in 2023. Each team paid a $200 million entrance fee.
The ownership group of the 30th team will reportedly pay $325 million. Phoenix and San Diego were among potential expansion cities named by the league.
Edens was part of an investment group that purchased the Milwaukee Bucks in 2014, which also landed the franchise the $524 million Fiserv Forum in 2018.
The same year, Eden and Sawiris purchased the Premier League’s Aston Villa.
Sawiris serves as Aston Villa’s executive chairman, director of Adidas AG, and executive chairman of investment company NNS Sarl, among other positions.
Edens is also the co-founder of Fortress Investment Group, a firm backing Brightline West, a high-speed rail project working to connect Las Vegas to Los Angeles by 2028. The investment group is reportedly looking to build the MLS stadium next to the site of the train station.
Possible Name for Vegas?
In June, Edens and Sawiris were part of a group that filed to trademark “Las Vegas Villains” in connection to a professional soccer team.
The pair said they’re “optimistic we’ll reach a final agreement soon.” MLS commissioner Don Garber emphasized in December that the 30th team would not begin play until after 2023.
X Games/ESPN/Design: Alex Brooks
A year after initial reports that Disney was looking to sell, the X Games is set to change hands.
Investors led by The Najafi Companies, run by Phoenix Suns’ exec Jahm Najafi, and MSP Sports Capital have reportedly signed a letter of intent to purchase the extreme sports competition.
The X Games, taking place this weekend, has long been a property of ESPN, but the sports media giant has been looking to shed the event and possibly its broadcasting rights as it navigates a more streaming-focused world.
ESPN was looking to sell broadcasting rights to the X Games for around $100 million but was more likely to offload their intellectual property rights for about $50 million, The Information reported in January 2021.
Paid ESPN+ subscriptions grew to 17.1 million in Disney’s fiscal fourth quarter, a 66% increase from the previous year.
A Sports Private Equity Tag Team
The Najafi Companies has quietly built a large sports portfolio. Its investments include the Suns, Formula 1 team McLaren, Bundesliga’s FC Augsburg, Belgian soccer team Waasland-Beveren, La Liga 2 team AD Alcorcón, and MSP Sports Capital.
MSP, chaired by Najafi, agreed to invest $247 million in McLaren Racing for a 15% stake in December 2020. It also holds investments in FC Augsburg, Waasland-Beveren, AD Alcorcón, and Estoril Praia of Portugal’s Primeira Liga.
Former San Diego Padres vice chair and CEO Jeff Moorad is CEO of MSP.
Olivia Falcigno/Imagn/Design: Alex Brooks
Wagr, an app designed for casual sports bets among friends, has completed a $12 million Series A funding round that included owners of the New England Patriots and Philadelphia 76ers.
The Kraft Group — founded by Robert Kraft, owner of the Patriots and New England Revolution — joined Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, owners of the 76ers and the New Jersey Devils, in the round, along with VC firms BITKRAFT Ventures, Greycroft, Pear VC, and Seven Seven Six.
Wagr will use the fresh capital to support development of its platform and fund license applications and associated costs. The company received a license in Tennessee in 2021.
The Series A round follows a $4 million raise in June 2021 led by Reddit co-founder and investor Alexis Ohanian through his VC firm Seven Seven Six.
The seed-funding round also included Tinder co-founder Justin Mateen and former Saks Inc. chairman and CEO Brad Martin.
Different Approach to Sports Gambling
Wagr is a platform that simplifies betting for casual users and matches bettors with a friend in the same state willing to take the opposite side. Wagr takes a 5% fee for every bet placed.
The Massachusetts-based company is aiming to obtain licenses in five more states by the end of year and hopes to have its app available for Android users in the coming weeks.
In The Leadoff, Peloton can’t catch a break, Netflix’s subscriber count grows to 222 million, Tom Brady’s NFT startup Autograph raises $170 million, and Seawall Capital acquires two outdoor sports companies. Click here to listen.
The MLBPA has planned to make an in-person counteroffer to the league on Monday regarding labor and salary disputes, among other issues. MLB has had a player lockout since Dec. 2.
China has limited the torch relay for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics to three days due to concerns regarding COVID. The torch relay will run Feb. 2-4.
On Friday, the New York Giants hired former Bills assistant GM Joe Schoen as general manager — a long-awaited smart move for a franchise that has been floundering for a decade. In five seasons in Buffalo, Schoen helped build a contender — the Bills have won two consecutive AFC East titles and have made the playoffs four of the last five seasons. Subscribe to Sports Section for more on New York and its latest hire.
Find out exactly what’s happening in the private markets every week with highlights from our Front Office Sports Insights Deal Tracker.
We carefully monitor both public and private market data to capture a picture of what the sports landscape looks like.
Insights Deal Tracker Highlights This Week:
Activision Blizzard, the massive video game publisher behind “World of Warcraft” and “Call of Duty,” was acquired by Microsoft for $69 billion.
Autograph, the developer of an NFT platform, raised $170 million in a Series B funding round led by Andreesen Horowitz and Kleiner Perkins.
Animoca Brands, a mobile games developer and publisher that delivers digital property rights to gamers through play-to-earn economies, raised $359 million in an expansion round led by Liberty City Ventures and Sequoia China.
Dream Games, a mobile games operator based in Turkey, raised $255 million in a Series C funding round led by Index Ventures and BlackRock.
Carry1st, the developer of a mobile gaming platform designed to leverage user acquisition and monetization capabilities, raised $20 million in a Series A funding round led by Knovoy Ventures and Andreesen Horowitz.
Try out the full Deal Tracker.
(Note: All as of market close on 1/21/22)
The Chicago Bulls (28-15) face the Milwaukee Bucks (28-19) on Friday at Fiserv Forum.
How to Watch: 8 p.m. ET on ESPN
Betting Odds: Bucks -10.5 || ML -490 || O/U 227.5* (Bet on DraftKings)
Pick: Expect the Bucks to overwhelm the short-handed Bulls. Take Milwaukee to cover.
Who ya got? Reply to this newsletter with your prediction for the Bulls-Bucks winner and final score.
*Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.
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