“With private equity you get a chance to find companies that are doing well and that you can help build on, that have a great upside,” Manning said in a phone call. “It reminded me more of a team, where for a team to be successful it takes everybody.”
Manning becomes the fourth partner at BVP, a consumer brands focused PE firm that in 2020 purchased BBQ Guys, an outdoor appliance venture in which Manning is an investor with his father, Archie. The connection through BBQ Guys led to discussions with Manning to pursue additional business opportunities. Last year BVP filed paperwork to launch a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) and included Manning on its slate of advisors, the people who help SPACs identify businesses to bring public. Though the BVP SPAC is on hold and the Mannings separately re-upped as brand ambassadors for BBQ Guys, Manning and the company saw a benefit to expanding ties.
“It’s great familiarity, trust and great timing for Eli, since being recently retired, he had a keen interest in the whole world of private equity,” Drew Sheinman, a BVP founding partner, said in a phone call. “Private equity is insanely competitive, and you’re sometimes chasing deals against other firms coming at it from a different perspective. So to have a world-class, two-time Super Bowl champion as part of our team and part of our edge, that’s hugely valuable. And it cuts across everything we do.”
BVP was formed in 2019 by Sheinman, Steve Lebowitz and Austin Ramos, a trio with experience in private equity at Endeavor, the sports and entertainment conglomerate. BVP’s current portfolio of companies is rounded out by two other outdoor appliance businesses, Blaze and Magma, as well as Original Footwear, the largest contracted provider of footwear, including combat boots, to the Defense Department.
Manning will help BVP seek new targets and help expand into sports businesses, Sheinman added. Sports has caught the eye of private equity firms in recent years as an area largely overlooked by institutional money but offering strong growth and exposure to adjacent media, consumer products and emerging technology start-ups. BVP’s sports focus will be on North America, with partners open to taking stakes in teams as well as sports-related businesses.
The new venture won’t affect Manning’s hit Monday Night Football broadcasts with his brother Peyton. The duo have a contract with ESPN running two more years after this season, and Eli retains flexibility to do his prep work during the week. “One thing I’ve always been very good at is time management,” Manning added on the call, which he began five minutes before its scheduled time.
Part of the appeal of BVP for Manning, who holds a marketing degree from the University of Mississippi, is the firm’s unique policy of taking 10% of the general partners’ carried interest—the sometimes sizeable profit PE executives make as their acquired businesses improve—and returning it to the portfolio companies. “It goes to the employees who aren’t part of upper management,” said Manning. “I always thought that’s what a company should be like—everybody should be involved, everybody should be on the same page and proud of what they’re doing.”
It’s unusual for an athlete to enter private equity, where realizing a return on investment can take years longer and require deeper work with portfolio businesses than with venture capital, where early funding of new business can sometimes yield eye-popping returns for some pros.
“I looked at the venture capital world also, and I get it—it is kind of exciting. You hear the stories about someone getting in at the very early stages of a company and it grows and grows. But you don’t hear about the 15 companies that failed also,” said Manning. “My expertise lies more in the sports world. I’m not the one looking at the spreadsheet and deciding to acquire a company or not—I’m still in the early stages of this—but I am all in.”