Although he lives in Madrid, CVC Capital Partners’ managing director Juan Arbide did not follow soccer before his company made a $3.2 billion investment in Spain’s LaLiga. “I wasn’t that keen on [football]. But more and more, I’m becoming a fan,” he said in a video call.
“Outside Barcelona and Real Madrid, there’s a lot of work to be done, and that’s why we are here,” he said, pointing to areas where he sees LaLiga teams lag, like commercialization, technology, social media and fan engagement. “When you look at the [English] Premier League clubs, beyond Manchester United and Liverpool, they’re doing much better commercially than LaLiga clubs.”
A month ago, 38 out of the 42 teams in LaLiga’s first and second divisions voted in favor of CVC’s $3.2 billion investment. The deal’s details drew immense media attention, especially given the announcement coincided with Lionel Messi’s surprising exit from Barcelona, which club president Joan Laporta characterized as a financial decision. LaLiga is not a legal entity with shares investors can buy. So rather than acquiring a stake in the league itself, CVC will share in the results of the business through a joint venture that is to last 50 years.
“As a private equity investor, we normally buy shares in the business … and that’s it,” said Arbide. “[Here,] we are buying shares in [a new] entity that will be responsible for all the commercial activities except for the TV rights because, by law, the TV rights cannot be transferred to a new entity; they must belong to LaLiga.”
Arbide expects clubs to use the cash infusion to bolster their teams on and off the pitch.
“It’s quite clear that the Spanish clubs are not doing their homework when it comes to social media, when it comes to being international and attracting sponsors from other markets. And that’s what we want to do here,” Arbide said. “We inject money to support the clubs, and we expect a certain commitment to a project. And that project is basically to invest the brands, fan experience, world-class infrastructure and digital development—not only buying players.”
Arbide believes clubs can increase commercial revenues quickly once they can establish a strategy to take on “that project” and notes that CVC’s collective approach aims to ensure long-term success, especially for smaller clubs in the league.
“The agreement with CVC is really about boosting the professionalization of La Liga clubs from small to large, and obviously the ones that stand to benefit most from that are smaller and medium-sized ones because the largest of the Liga clubs have already developed professional structures,” said Joris Evers, the head of communications of LaLiga. “I think they’re going to hold everybody’s hands through this process. It’s going to be great collaboration of people who know how to do business internationally, and they inject that ideology to smaller clubs.”
Last week Bloomberg reported Italy’s Serie A was close to informally restarting talks to accept private equity investment. An initial PE proposal was presented to the Italian soccer league by CVC Capital Partners a year ago. However, the 20 clubs that make up Serie A walked out of the deal, worth around $1 billion, last February. Sources close to the deal reported CVC was out of contention, and Advent International Partners will lead the new agreement with the Italian soccer league. Arbide did not comment on the Serie A deal. But he said many areas could be explored in creating synergies between the two leagues, in terms of technology and content.
LaLiga is the fourth-ranked sports competition globally by revenue outside the domestic market—after the NBA, Premier League and the Champions League. “We have the number four, and it’s a great asset, it’s global. I think in that sense, 100 years from now, LaLiga will be here,” he said. “Strong competitions with engaged fans can go through different sporting cycles while continuing to grow. Even if we don’t have Messi right now, someone will come.”