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Los Angeles private-equity firm Colony Capital expected to bid for AEG

Colony Capital and its Chairman, Tom Barrack, are reportedly among the bidders for sports and entertainment giant AEG.
Colony Capital and its Chairman, Tom Barrack, are reportedly among the bidders for sports and entertainment giant AEG.

Anschutz Entertainment Group, lovingly referred by every sport and concert fan in the Southland as AEG, has put itself up for sale. This is potentially a true humdinger of a deal for Phil Anschutz, the reclusive Denver billionaire who started AEG a decade-and-a-half ago and has — with this considerable assistance of Tim Leiweke, who has run AEG day to day — build the enterprise up into a giant that could be worth anywhere from $4 to $8 billion, according to various reports, speculations, and back-of-the-envelope math on the privately held and somewhat secretive company.

The bidders are lining up, led by the richest man in L.A., Patrick Soon-Shiong, who took a shot at the Dodgers earlier this year and already owns a small stake in the Lakers (AEG owns a third of the team). His $7-billion-plus net worth wasn't enough to get to the finish line, however, even in partnership with $8-billion-plus-net-worth hedge funder Steve Cohen. 

As I anticipated yesterday, Tom Barrack's L.A-based private equity firm, Colony Capital, is also probably in the picture (I haven't heard back from Colony's representatives to confirm this, but the L.A Times cited a sources in a story from earlier today). Barrack dropped out of the bidding for the Dodgers midway through the process, along with another Dallas Mavericks owners Mark Cuban (who may have sensibly seen the purchase price going through the roof). Interestingly, AEG is a bit more up his alley. 

AEG has indicated that it would want to sell itself in its entirety, but that doesn't mean that a buyer wouldn't then sell off its pieces: sports to one group, entertainment to another, real estate to somebody else. Barrack and Colony are adept as these sorts of private-equity mechanics, with assets bought largely with debt, then sold off a few years later for a gain. 

The Dodgers, by contrast, look like more of a long-term investment.

This is the main difference between the Dodgers deal and how AEG may ultimately shake down. The Dodgers was basically a team, a stadium, parking lots, and a broadcast deal. AEG is more like, say, General Motors: a holding company operating separate business. Before and after its bankruptcy, GM sold off pieces of itself, spun off other operations (like partsmaker Delphi), and killed underperforming brands like Pontiac and Oldsmobile. 

As the AEG deal progresses, we should expect more private equity players to enter the picture. Unless, of course, Phil Anschutz and Tim Leiweke have already conducting all the backroom business they need. In the meantime, here's a repost of part of what I wrote about Barrack when he was in the running to buy the Dodgers...

Who is Tom Barrack, the latest billionaire to covet the Dodgers?

At base, the guy does real estate. From the helm of his $34-billion private-equity shop,Colony Capital in Santa Monica, Barrack manages this most debt-intensive of investments. His mojo is to zero in on "distressed" assets — properties that could be worth a lot more than their apparent face value and, being real estate, provide an obvious form of collateral to use for leverage — and, to put it simply, fix them up. This is from a New York Magazine profile of Barrack, a 63-year-old USC grad, that appeared in late 2010:

He launched Colony Capital in 1990, and for fifteen years, it averaged an annual return of 21 percent for its investors. The inaugural Colony transactions mined the S&L crisis by buying packages of bad loans from the FDIC at bargain prices. These deals possessed several of the elements that would characterize Barrack’s deals over the next two decades: They used real estate as collateral; they required intensive hands-on management; and, most important, they ran toward, rather than away from, regulatory complexity.

I don't think Barrack is above talking down assets, either, in order to distress them to the point where they'd be good buys for him. See the above video for an example, when in an interview with Erin Brunett on CNBC he foretold a commercial real estate crash that never arrived. It's not that he necessarily wanted that to happen. But if it had, he would have seen opportunities to leap at. Just sayin'.

More recently, Barrack has been moving into entertainment-oriented investments. He famously rescued Neverland Ranch and proposed a way for Michael Jackson to dig himself out of debt before the singer unfortunately died. He also saved photographer Annie Leibovitz for the clutches of Art Capital, who had loan-sharked her into $24 million of debt that had become seriously distressed. Catnip for Barrack.

So let's put this in the context of the Dodgers purchase. For Caruso-Torre, you can see the development angle: Caruso has made his name creating the kind of retail-entertainment environments that Angelenos love, such as the Grove and the Americana at Brand. Caruso looks at Dodger Stadium and the surrounding land as a massive missed development opportunity.

Someone like Mark Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks owner, might think that he can amp up the Dodgers, creating a kind of Lakers-esque "Showtime" revival in Chavez Ravine. Woo-hoo!

With the money guys, it gets more cryptic. Cohen, who's worth something like $8 billion, has a fearsome reputation as a trader. His hedge funds look to move in an out of stocks very quickly. Not exactly a formula for long-term management of an MLB sports franchise — and besides, it been alledged that Cohen is happy to bend the rules to rack up big profits.

But then again, there's been speculation that Cohen want to semi-retire from the hedge-fund game, and owning the Dodgers could be his ticket to a new way of life.

Barrack, on the other hand, wants to buy low and sell high. The private-equity model establishes a timeframe to hold an asset, seeking to remove it from market pressure until it can be un-distressed and later unloaded at tremendous profit, once the obscured value is revealed. 

The real estate angle is present with the Dodgers — the land and the stadium are worth a lot. The total value of the sale is now being set at something like $1.6 billion. So does Barrack see the word "distressed" printed on top of that price tag?

In this respect, the way that Colony Capital handled the purchase and then sale of the Paris Saint-Germain French soccer team between 2006 and 2011 is instructive.

Along with several other investors, including Morgan Stanley, Colony acquired the team. Colony later bought Morgan out, upping its share to 95 percent. In 2011, it sold 70 percent to Qatar's sovereign wealth fund, keeping 29 percent for themselves.

As you can see, start to finish, the timeframe was a private-equity typical five years.

Does Barrack have something similar in store for the Dodgers? From Shaikin's story, it seems clear that Colony would be buying the team, not Barrack personally. This differs from Cohen's likely plan — that billionaire would treat the Dodgers perhaps in the same way he does his formidable art collection, as something...well, beautiful to be obtained. A diamond in the recent rough. An damaged Picasso in need of restoration.

One thing's for sure, from where I sit: Barrack's interest, and his background in buying distressed properties, suggests that the Dodgers' price may be going up.

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