AUDIO: Is this the 'smarts and savvy' that WPRFU needs?
ONE-ON-ONE: Jan de Koning sat down with Marco V Masotti to chat about the attempt of his consortium, MVM Holdings, to obtain a controlling share in WP Rugby and what value they bring to the table.
Masotti, a Durban-born, New York-based lawyer, said he is bringing on board people who are “smart and savvy” and know how to run a business.
With people like the co-owner of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks basketball team Marc Lasry on board, Masotti believes there is a lot to be learnt from the other sporting codes.
Lasry is also a founding member of Avenue Capital Management, a firm that manages about US$10-billion in assets and focuses on distressed and undervalued ventures.
Despite the obvious qualities and the credentials of the consortium, the resistance against the American investors taking control of professional rugby in the Western Cape remains stout in certain quarters.
The doubters may even have valid reasons and reservations for their objections.
However, to summarily dismiss the attempts by MVM Holdings to obtain a controlling share of Western Province Professional Rugby (Pty) Ltd, the business arm of the WP Rugby Football Union, may be short-sighted.
Masotti readily admits they are not your ‘typical’ private equity investor.
He pointed to CVC, the private equity firm investing their own money in rugby in Europe – the Premiership and Pro14 – in order to make a return.
“I am different in that I am an expat South African, looking to re-engage with South Africa and having a deep, deep love of rugby,” Masotti told @rugby365com.
“I am using this as an opportunity to bring together some leading business people and having them shine a light on rugby and Cape Town.
“It [WPRFU] is a business that has a lot of untapped potential that needs to be unlocked.”
He said the assets he brings to the table is a love for rugby and a group of people who can re-engage in South Africa and contribute to it.
He is also bringing in expertise from other sporting codes and people who invest in sport and made good returns in doing so.
“I am bringing on board people who are smart and savvy and know how to run a business,” Masotti added.
He spoke of the Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry, a close friend, who took the low-key franchise with limited success and saw it quadruple in value.
“It planted the idea that sport, as an entertainment business, has opportunities.
“I saw that sitting in the stadium at the World Cup Final in Yokohama,” he said of South Africa’s World Cup Final win over England, adding: “When I heard about the WP opportunity, I tried to bring together a group of people that are primarily expat South Africans with an interest in rugby.
“I wanted to match them [WPRFU] with some of my partners.
“One is the owner of an NHL business.
“There is a lot to be learnt from the other sporting codes. My law firm also represents the NFL.
“[We] maybe wanted to try one or two of the owners or principles of the football teams. Also some people from the media.”
He pointed to a company that helped grow a joint venture between the NY Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys, which saw the Cowboys top Forbes’ list of the most valuable sports franchises for the fifth consecutive year.
“They bring all sorts of levels of expertise,” he said, adding that the amount of US dollars needed for the investment is not that significant.
“It is less about the money and more about people who can add value,” he said, adding that he certainly does not have all the answers.
“What we are good at is finding the people and their expertise. [They help] building a franchise and running it as a separate and professional business, growing it into a global brand.”
Masotti spoke of the prospect of a local Stormers franchise in America, creating merchandise that has global appeal.
“With the Stormers potentially playing in Europe, in the Pro14, it gives a lot of people here [America] and Europe accessibility.
“Can you do something similar in Asia – creating a local franchise and brand? It could be similar to what Ajax soccer did.
“I want to be a shareholder and then find the right expertise to run it.”
He admits it is difficult changing the doubters minds.
“This is unusual, it is not just some foreign owner who knows nothing about rugby – taking over their long-time, beloved rugby team.
This is someone who loves rugby.
“The people who are leading this, absolutely love rugby.
“I have a deep and abiding love of South Africa.
“We want everybody in Cape Town to feel good about it.
“We are extending the hand of friendship.”
Masotti is recognized as one of America’s leading lawyers in the alternative asset management industry – labelled in his field as smart, super creative and thinking outside of the box.
His good friend and MVM Holdings partner Lasry is also a law school graduate, the co-founder Avenue Capital Group. The firm manages about US$10 billion in assets and focuses on distressed and undervalued securities.