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Semafor LogoLiz Hoffman
Liz Hoffman
business

Magic Johnson is in talks to buy part of the Raiders

with Reed Albergotti

Liz is Semafor’s Business & Finance Editor, joining us from The Wall Street Journal. Sign up for Semafor Business to get her scoops in your inbox twice a week.

Reed is Semafor’s Technology Editor, joining us from the Washington Post. Sign up for the Semafor Tech newsletter to get his scoops and coverage on the industry’s biggest stories in your inbox twice a week.

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Title iconThe Scoop

Former NBA star Magic Johnson is in talks to buy a stake in the National Football League’s Las Vegas Raiders at a price that could set a new record for sports deals, according to people familiar with the matter.

Johnson has been assembling a team of investors in recent weeks for a minority slice of the Raiders, which is majority owned by the family of the late Al Davis, the people said. One of them said the group was conducting due diligence with the team. A deal hasn’t been finalized and could still fall apart.

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Semafor couldn’t learn the price being discussed, but Forbes reported in August that Raiders owner Mark Davis had received an offer from an unnamed investor for a minority stake that valued the team at $6.5 billion. That would be a record for any professional sports franchise, easily surpassing recent deals for both the NFL’s Denver Broncos and the Premier League’s Chelsea club.

Reuters/USA Today SPORTS

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court chose not to hear an appeal from the city of Oakland, which sued the Raiders and the NFL in 2018 for allegedly violating antitrust law when the team moved to Las Vegas. The team’s original home town had sought $240 million in lost tax revenue and investment from the Raiders move.

In the three decades since he retired as an NBA star on the Los Angeles Lakers team Johnson has built a business empire in sports and beyond. His firm, Magic Johnson Enterprises, owns everything from a stake in the Los Angeles Dodgers to Burger King and Starbucks franchises.

Magic has long had an interest in owning a piece of the Raiders. While he was winning championships with the Lakers, the Raiders were dominating in the LA Coliseum with stars like Marcus Allen and Howie Long, who carried the team to a Super Bowl win in 1984.

A decade ago, when the Raiders were looking for taxpayer money for a new stadium in Oakland, Johnson flirted with the idea of investing in a bid to bring the Raiders back to LA, but the move never materialized.

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Johnson couldn’t be reached for comment, and messages sent to his investment firm, Magic Johnson Enterprises, were not returned. A Raiders spokesman did not respond to requests for comment. The NFL, which would need to approve any sale, didn't immediately respond.

Title iconReed's View

The NFL has been criticized for lack of black owners. Getting Magic involved is progress, but there is still a big barrier that hasn’t been broken — a Black majority owner.

League rules require the principal owner of a team to hold at least 30% and the entire ownership group cannot exceed 24 people, which contributes to a clubby circle at the top. The league reportedly discussed making an exception to those rules when the Broncos were sold to diversify the pool of potential investors.

The Raiders last season had their own issues with race discrimination. Emails from then head coach Jon Gruden were leaked last year in which he used racial epithets. The team’s controlling owner, Mark Davis, who has been a vocal proponent of diversity in the NFL, quickly fired Gruden.

Moving to Las Vegas has turned out to be great for the storied NFL franchise. The Raiders original owner, Al Davis, was a larger-than-life character and a sports industry genius. He’s irreplaceable, but having Magic on board would certainly be a “win, baby” for the team.

Title iconRoom for Disagreement

The NFL’s strict ownership rules have preserved its tradition of long-term owners – mostly storied families – who have proven to be good stewards of their teams over time. Families like the Rooneys, Maras, and Davises helped invent the sport and ones like the Joneses, Krafts, and Kroenkes helped make it a juggernaut.

It has protected the league from another trend in global sports: the influx of foreign money from billionaires in the Gulf and beyond looking to diversify their holdings and buy goodwill and influence in the West. That buying spree – which saw Russian oligarchs and Saudi royals take over storied football teams in the U.K, and an NBA franchise go to a Russian oligarch – has outraged some fans, who see their teams being used to launder the public images of despots.

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