Apollo’s Berg, Ares’s Rosenthal Lead Soccer’s LAFC Owner Group

  • MLS team closes history-making stadium loan with Goldman Sachs
  • Club will build 22,000-seat facility next to L.A. Coliseum

Apollo Global Management LLC senior partner Larry Berg leads a trio of local owners taking control of Los Angeles Football Club, whose stadium loan has for the first time in league history put Major League Soccer on par with top U.S. sports leagues like the NFL and NBA.

Berg said he has become lead co-managing owner of the soccer team that is scheduled to begin play in 2018. He’s joined by Ares Management LLC co-founder Bennett Rosenthal and Brandon Beck, co-founder of League of Legends owner Riot Games Inc. All had been limited partners in the franchise whose celebrity investors include comedian Will Ferrell, former baseball player Nomar Garciaparra and his wife, soccer player Mia Hamm.

“It’s easier to energize with local ownership,” Berg, who is also an investor in Italian soccer club AS Roma and English team Swansea City, said in an interview. “It’s amazing what a difference it makes.”

The club is building a 22,000-seat stadium in South Los Angeles, at the site of the Los Angeles Sports Arena, which is adjacent to the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. The project’s cost is $350 million, about half of which will be financed with debt in a loan being syndicated by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. The loan closed yesterday.

Unique Financing

According to Goldman banker Greg Carey, who specializes in stadium financing, this particular transaction is unique because it’s the first time in Major League Soccer’s 20-year history that a loan for one of its stadiums will be collateralized solely with revenue from the facility.

Previous MLS stadium loans included recourse debt, Carey said, which means the team owners were responsible for paying back the debt holders if revenue from the stadium fell short.

“It’s an indicator of the league’s maturation,” Carey said, adding that his 35-or-so stadium loans in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, Nascar and Formula-1 didn’t involve recourse debt. “There’s confidence in the lending market that MLS isn’t going anywhere.”

Goldman’s loan comes as MLS is preparing to almost double expansion fees to about $200 million. The 20-team league has also committed to new franchises in Atlanta, which begins play next season, and Minnesota, whose start date hasn’t been determined. The league is also negotiating with David Beckham’s ownership group about putting a franchise in Miami.

L.A. Football Club owners paid $110 million in 2014 to put a second club in the nation’s No. 2 media market, joining the Galaxy. The league has said it’s targeting 28 teams.

MLS teams are worth an average $157 million, with three clubs -- the Seattle Sounders, Galaxy and Houston Dynamo -- valued at at least $200 million, according to Forbes’s 2015 rankings.

Groundbreaking for LAFC’s stadium is scheduled for Aug. 23. The project includes an international food hall, conference and event center, soccer-focused retail store and what the team calls nightlife components.

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