Yankees, LeBron James to invest in AC Milan soccer team

·6 min read

NEW YORK (AP) — Baseball’s elite are getting involved with one of Europe’s most celebrated soccer clubs.

The New York Yankees are becoming a minority investor in Italian champion AC Milan, the second soccer team the baseball power will partially own after MLS’s New York City.

A Los Angeles-based fund that includes LeBron James also is becoming a minority investor in the seven-time European champion under RedBird Capital Partners, The Financial Times reported Tuesday. RedBird is nearing a deal to purchase a controlling interest in Milan for 1.2 billion euros ($1.2 billion).

Gerry Cardinale, who founded RedBird in 2014 and is a managing partner, announced a preliminary agreement in June to buy Milan from fellow American firm Elliott Management. The closing is to take place by the end of September.

Yankees Global Enterprises, the baseball team's parent company led by the Steinbrenner family, will take a stake of about 10% in Milan, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because the final deal has not been announced.

“We're very confident that the Yankee brand is the most famous sports brand in the world, and we think we can help boost the revenue of AC Milan by being associated with it,” Yankees president Randy Levine said Tuesday.

Milan declined to comment.

The Yankees agreed in 2013 to purchase a 20% stake in the New York City Major League Soccer team that launched in 2015. City Football Group, Manchester City’s parent company, is the controlling owner.

Yankees Global Enterprises also owns stakes in the YES Network and Legends Hospitality, formed in 2008 with the NFL's Dallas Cowboys.

“It came about based on our relationship with Gerry and RedBird that goes back over 25 years,” Levine said. “The Steinbrenners were one of the original investors in RedBird when Gerry started it. We worked very closely with Gerry when he was at Goldman Sachs in building the YES Network and Legends Hospitality. He was involved with Goldman’s work on the new Yankee Stadium when RedBird was formed and YES was purchased back from Disney, RedBird became a partner with us and YES.”

The Yankees, 27-time World Series champions, are signing a separate marketing agreement with Milan, a 19-time Italian champion, that will include broadcasting replays of games on the YES Network, as Manchester City does. There also will be cross-merchandising between the pinstripes and the Rossoneri.

“We have a little familiarity with soccer — we’ve learned a little since our relationship with City Football Group,” Levine said. “We think it’s a good investment. Like with Man City, we do not intend to get involved in running the soccer side. We leave it to the experts. We've got enough to do on the baseball side.”

New York City plays most of its home games at Yankee Stadium, and Levine is helping lead the search for a site for a soccer stadium for the MLS team.

Milan is coming off its first Italian title in 11 years.

Main Street Advisors, the fund supported by James, also counts the rapper Drake among its partners, as well as English Premier League club Liverpool and the Boston Red Sox.

James and Drake will be passive investors in Milan through the fund and have not taken direct stakes, according to The Financial Times, which first reported the investments.

RedBird also has a stake in Fenway Sports Group, parent company of Liverpool and the Red Sox. Champions League rules prohibit two clubs in the competition from being under the same ownership to protect the integrity of games on the field. UEFA likely will have to make a judgment on the extent of RedBird’s influence on decision-making at Liverpool.

RedBird is set to become Milan’s fourth owner in five years.

Milan was owned by Silvio Berlusconi from 1986 until 2017. Italy’s prime minister from 2001-06 and 2008-11, Berlusconi sold control to a company controlled by Sino-Europe Sports Investment Management Changxing Co. The American hedge fund Elliott provided financing and took control of the team in 2018 when loan payments were not made.

Inter Milan, Roma, Fiorentina and Bologna are among other foreign-owned teams in Serie A.

“Italian soccer is still experiencing financial contraction,” Inter CEO Giuseppe Marotta said of the Milan transaction. “We’ve gone from a period of patronage by the Morattis and the Berlusconis who brought (trophies) to Milan and Inter to a situation in which both clubs have foreign ownership. And thank goodness they came.

“Most of the foreign owners are American and they’ve brought in a new business model, and a different mentality in which economic and financial sustainability is very important.”

Having previously failed to qualify for Europe’s elite competition for seven consecutive years, including a one-year UEFA ban for breaking financial monitoring rules, Milan is playing in the Champions League for a second consecutive season. That competition can increase revenue by about 100 million euros ($100 million) in UEFA prize money and help restore the club’s global brand.

Milan shares one of soccer’s iconic venues, San Siro, with rival Inter Milan. With a capacity of about 80,000, the stadium opened in 1926, was extensively renovated ahead of the 1990 World Cup and is scheduled to host the opening ceremony of the 2026 Winter Olympics. There are few luxury suites and fan amenities in the venue, formally known as Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, and both Milan and Inter have discussed building a new stadium adjacent to the current arena.

“As we help the City Football Group here in New York," Levine said, "in commercial ways and trying to get through a stadium and a whole bunch of other things, we think in our brand there could be synergies between us and Milan that will raise the value of Milan significantly.”

Former longtime team captain Paolo Maldini will stay on as Milan’s technical area director despite the ownership change, a person involved in the negotiations said, adding that Stefano Pioli is safe in his job as Milan’s coach. That person also spoke the AP on condition of anonymity because the final deal has not been announced yet.

The only Italians investing in the deal are media rights executive Riccardo Silva and his brother, Saverio Silva, the person said.

Riccardo Silva owns the Miami soccer club, which plays in the second-tier USL Championship. He founded the Miami team together with Maldini, who withdrew his ownership stake in Miami when he took on his current role at Milan.

The deal could involve players from Milan’s youth academy spending time at Miami.

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Dampf reported from Rome. AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this report.

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Andrew Dampf is at https://twitter.com/AndrewDampf

Ronald Blum And Andrew Dampf, The Associated Press