LeBron James' SpringHill valued at $725 million in new deal


Los Angeles Times 14 October, 2021 - 06:30am

James’ entertainment firm, the SpringHill Co., has secured a private equity-led investment to fuel the Los Angeles Lakers star’s growth in film, TV, video games, consumer products and live events.

The SpringHill Co. on Thursday said it has made a deal for a group led by New York-based RedBird Capital Partners to acquire a significant minority stake in the company, known for shows including “The Shop” on HBO and the recent Warner Bros. film “Space Jam: A New Legacy.”

Participants in the deal include Boston Red Sox owner Fenway Sports Group, apparel brand Nike and “Fortnite” maker Epic Games. The deal values Los Angeles-based SpringHill at $725 million.

Other financial details of the transaction were not disclosed, but people familiar with the terms said the RedBird-led group will own nearly half the company and put in nine figures’ worth of capital to grow the business, with the potential for more money later on. James, who serves as the company’s chairman, and CEO Maverick Carter will still have a controlling stake.

Carter, a longtime friend of James from their Akron, Ohio, days who has managed the star’s business dealings for years, said the capital infusion will allow SpringHill to produce more of its own content, invest in new intellectual property and acquire other firms, including production companies.

“We’ll be able to finance our own projects,” Carter said over Zoom. “We’re going to build up our physical production arm so we’ll be able to finance and control the production of the things we make, so when we talk about empowering creators, we can really leave creators in control.”

When LeBron James and his mother moved into the Spring Hill apartments in Akron, Ohio, it was the first time he had a room of his own.

Last year, Carter and James raised $100 million for SpringHill from investors including Sister, the production company of Elisabeth Murdoch, Stacey Snider and Jane Featherstone, and Guggenheim.

The SpringHill deal is the latest high-profile production company investment amid a gold rush for content in the entertainment industry. Media companies have been hungry for content to build streaming services with fresh shows and movies.

The production company behind ‘Big Little Lies’ will be majority owned by a new media company backed by ex-Disney executives Kevin Mayer and Tom Staggs and private equity giant Blackstone.

Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine, the entity behind “Big Little Lies,” in August received a majority investment from the firm formed by ex-Disney executives Kevin Mayer and Tom Staggs and private equity giant Blackstone, valuing the firm at more than $900 million. Amazon is trying to acquire James Bond producer Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios for $8.45 billion, pending regulatory approval.

“Moonlight” producer A24 and “Dune” studio Legendary Entertainment have all been subjects of recent deal speculation.

SpringHill was a logical fit for RedBird Capital, founded in 2014 by former Goldman Sachs partner Gerry Cardinale, who has known Carter and James for more than a decade.

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RedBird is heavily invested in sports and entertainment, with a portfolio that includes investments in YES Network, the regional sports network of the New York Yankees; David Ellison’s Skydance Media; and XFL, which it owns with Dany Garcia and Dwayne Johnson. RedBird is also a shareholder in Fenway Sports Group, which in addition to the Red Sox owns the Liverpool Football Club and Boston’s Fenway Park. James and Carter became partners in Fenway earlier this year.

SpringHill has been entertaining deal talks since at least July, when the Information first reported that investors were circling. Fenway was in deal talks with SpringHill when it brought Cardinale to the table, Carter said. Cardinale quickly saw the potential to build SpringHill’s business, and a deal came together in just a couple months.

“The goal is to create a multibillion-dollar diversified culture and content company, and I think that puts it in a pretty unique position,” said Cardinale, founder and managing partner at RedBird. “It’s not just capital; it’s listening to Maverick and LeBron in terms of what they want to build, where they’ve taken the company from a standing start to today, and then saying what the potential trajectory is.”

The pact is the latest boost for SpringHill, which was already one of the best known of a handful of content companies launched by sports stars.

Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry has Unanimous Media and Brooklyn Nets’ Kevin Durant co-founded investment and media company Thirty5 Ventures. Kobe Bryant’s widow Vanessa Bryant presides over Granity Studios, the production company created by the late Lakers great and Oscar winner.

In the roughly four-year stretch between Kobe Bryant’s retirement and his death in 2020, he built a wide-ranging business portfolio that lives on.

Epic will work with SpringHill to create new experiences using the company’s brands. James earlier this year appeared in the popular shooter game “Fortnite.” SpringHill will also be able to work with Fenway to create original content about its teams and venues.

Additionally, the deal raises the prospect of SpringHill working with other companies in RedBird’s stable, including XFL and Skydance, known for productions such as Apple TV+'s “Foundation” series and Netflix’s action film “The Old Guard.”

“The way I invest, I’m always looking at that connectivity with the different companies I have investments with,” Cardinale said. “You should expect us to lean into that across the board.”

SpringHill’s lineup includes a reboot of the comedy film “House Party” for streaming service HBO Max. The company last year left its pact with Warner Bros. for a first-look deal with Comcast Corp.'s Universal Pictures. Universal released the 2015 Amy Schumer comedy “Trainwreck,” in which James played a memorable supporting role.

Carter has big ambitions for SpringHill, seeing its potential as much more than a vehicle for James’ off-court career.

“We’ll be able to fund and build out our own IP — it’s aspirational — but much in the way that Disney does,” Carter said. “It’s aspirational, it’s arrogant. But arrogant aspiration is what leads to things getting built.”

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Ryan Faughnder is a film business reporter for the Los Angeles Times’ Company Town and the host of the entertainment business newsletter The Wide Shot. Faughnder writes about Hollywood studios, including Walt Disney Co., and has covered such major stories as the Sony hack. An alumnus of USC’s Annenberg School and UC Santa Barbara, he previously wrote for the Los Angeles Business Journal and Bloomberg News.

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