Hedge funders and sports team owners Jamie Dinan and Alexander Knaster, along with Italian soccer legend Gianluca Vialli, have filed to raise $250 million in a sports-focused special purpose acquisition company, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The SPAC—Iconic Sports Acquisition—seeks “to identify, acquire and accelerate a business in the global sports industry or an adjacent sector including data and analytics, media and technology. In doing so, we intend to focus our search on iconic businesses, including sports franchises,” the prospectus states in part.
Dinan is part owner of the Milwaukee Bucks and also chairman and owner of York Capital, a New York hedge fund with $12.7 billion in assets under management, according to a regulatory disclosure. Joining Dinan as a sponsor of the SPAC—the principals who fund the costs of bringing the SPAC to market—is Alexander Knaster, the majority owner of AC Pisa 1909, currently the top team in Italy’s Serie B league. He acquired the squad in January this year. Knaster is the owner of Pamplona Capital Management, a hedge fund with about $13 billion in assets. Another sponsor is Edward Eisler, owner of Eisler Capital, a London-based hedge fund with about $4 billion in capital, according to the prospectus. Eisler previously had a long career as a trader at Goldman Sachs. Rounding out the sponsor group is Tifosy Capital, a U.K. sports bank co-founded by Vialli, which has worked with soccer clubs Everton, Rangers FC and Juventus, among other teams.
In its pitch to potential investors, Iconic states that it believes sports and sports-adjacent enterprises are the most attractive segments in the media ecosystem. “The total addressable market of the professional sports and adjacent technology and services sectors is estimated at approximately $172 billion and growing at approximately 8% per year, underpinned by continued high global demand for live viewership and other forms of sports media consumption,” the prospectus states. “The value of this unique, exciting, unscripted and live form of entertainment is best exemplified by the continued inflation in sports media rights.” The SPAC also describes a market opportunity brought about by displacement from the pandemic, as well as the shift towards “professional ownership” and the potential synergies to be had from the creation of a global sports platform.
The filing cites the success of the Milwaukee Bucks—reigning NBA champions—in increasing attendance, concessions and media revenue, as well as the development of the mixed-use real estate Deer District, as an example of the SPAC’s expertise. Dinan, who bought the Bucks in 2014 with Marc Lasry and Wes Edens, and Knaster are directors of the blank check.
Dinan didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Iconic management is led by Italian soccer hall-of-famer Vialli, who is co-CEO. In addition to a playing career in Italy’s Serie A, Vialli also managed English Premier League teams. He is a co-founder of Tifosy with Fausto Zanetton, who is the SPAC’s other co-CEO. Zanetton oversees the day-to-day operations of the sports bank and has a U.S. investment bank background.
The filing highlights a slow return of sports-focused SPACs after the market for blank checks stalled this spring under regulatory scrutiny and investors rethinking capital commitments. Still, the SPAC market has yet to return to the robustness it showed in 2020 and the start of this year. One sign of the headwinds SPACs still face is seen in Iconic’s initial paperwork, filed with SEC in May (draft prospectuses are made public when the formal prospectus is filed). The Iconic SPAC originally wanted to raise $400 million, with each unit to be sold at the IPO consisting of a share and one-third of a warrant, with 24 months to find a merger target. In addition to seeking a more modestly sized IPO, Iconic also shortened the acquisition timeframe to 15 months and boosted the partial warrant per unit to half—both changes that should make the offering more appealing to Wall Street. SPACs by rule have a limited timeframe to make an acquisition or they have to return capital back to investors.
According to the Sportico Sports SPAC Tracker, there are 119 sports-related SPACs either on the market for acquisitions, or in some stage of seeking an IPO. Sports-related SPACs that have held their IPO hold more than $16.4 billion in capital. Iconic joins SPACs led by Alex Rodriguez (Slam), Gerry Cardinale and Billy Beane (RedBall), Wyc Grousbeck (Athlon) and others seeking a sports business to bring public. Overall, there are 582 active blank checks, with $170 billion in capital, seeking acquisitions, according to an October report by SPACAlpha, a researcher.
Iconic Sports’ IPO is being led by Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley.