Texas Rangers president and co-owner Neil Leibman and Sports Advisory Group senior partner Bill Yates have formed Top Tier Sports, an investment group that just inked deals to buy equity in the Buffalo Beauts and Minnesota Whitecaps of the National Women’s Hockey League as well as the Cleburne Railroaders, an independent baseball team.
The Top Tier fund seeks to acquire equity stakes in teams and sports not in North America’s big four pro leagues. “We’re sport-agnostic. We’re looking at pretty much any level, in any sport, anywhere in the U.S.,” Yates said in a phone call. “We are interested in growing the asset value over time, making a positive contribution to our communities, and having fun as owners as much as anything.”
In addition to the two announced deals, Top Tier is in advanced negotiations with other undisclosed teams. A Leibman and Yates-led group, Top Tier Rugby, bought control of Major League Rugby’s Dallas Jackals last year.
Overall, Yates said the fund probably will seek to hold a portfolio of 10 to 15 teams and related sports businesses, and will consider opportunities in Canada and Latin America if they present themselves, generally seeking to invest $10 million or less. An investor and co-manager of the investment fund with Leibman is David Rawlinson II, the incoming CEO of publicly traded Qurate, a retailer that owns HSN, QVC, Zulily and other brands. Among nine other named investors in Top Tier are Chris Rasmussen, the chief financial officer of Recoil Resources, an oil and gas exploration and production company; Thomas Vander Veen, managing director at Epsilon Economics; and Christine and John Dwyer, Texas-based investors who were part of the Jackals group.
Yates said Top Tier originated with Leibman, who saw significant opportunities to pursue in minor league and emerging league teams. The executive has long been an active investor in sports franchises, including a series of minor league baseball teams, as well as an original member of the ownership group that purchased MLB’s Rangers in 2010. Leibman oversees the business and revenue operations of the MLB team. The duo had planned to launch Top Tier early last year but put plans on hold due to the pandemic. Unlike other recently formed investment funds who aim to target teams financially distressed by the pandemic, Top Tier seeks to enter long-term investments with teams it feels have strong community roots, said Yates.
“We’re not flippers,” he said. “We have no intention of buying a team and selling it in a year or two. We’re looking at five, 10, 20 years of being involved in these teams and communities.”