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Cheer the Team, Own the Stock

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- It's been nearly eight months since Manchester United's (MANU - Get Report) initial public offering, which I explored in an August column.

While shares were expected to price in the $16-$20 range, they came public at $14, and have risen about 17%, and are now ironically trading at the lower end of the of the expected IPO price range.

In January, Forbes named Manchester United as the world's most valuable sports team, with a value of $2.1 billion. There's no doubt that Manchester is an extremely valuable franchise, but Forbes' estimate is below the company's current enterprise value of $3.25 billion, although Manchester does hold some assets beyond the team itself.


MANU Chart MANU data by YCharts

The ability for investors to own publicly traded exposure to professional sports teams in has been quite limited in recent years. Either the initial public offerings were so high profile, such as Manchester's, that they were immediately fairly valued, or in the case of the Cleveland Indians' 1998 IPO, interest was fleeting. The Indians went public at $15 a share and fell to $6, which resulted in an extremely low valuation for the team. The next year, the Indians were sold for $320 million, a record at that time, and shareholders received around $22.50 per share, a tidy premium especially for those bottom-fished shares in the $6 range.

Perhaps more interesting than Manchester, is the case of Madison Square Garden (MSG - Get Report), which is up more than 50% since my August column. Given the name of the company, it is not apparent to investors, as in Manchester's case, that the company owns major professional sports teams. MSG owns both the NBA's New York Knicks and NHL's New York Rangers. Forbes recently valued the Knicks at $1.1 billion, making it the most valuable NBA franchise. The Rangers rank second in the NHL are worth $750 million according to Forbes, up from $507 million last year. Combined, these teams are worth $1.85 billion. Back in August, MSG's enterprise value was just $2.6 billion. MSG Chart MSG data by YCharts


Of course, MSG also owns a host of other valuable assets, including the Madison Square Garden complex, and associated air rights, and MSG networks, so the Knicks and Rangers are just part of the package. MSG's run-up-shares are now trading near the all-time high, sending the company's enterprise value above $4 billion.

As a value investor, I was fairly early to the MSG story, but parted ways with my shares late in 2012 for a nice gain. However, the subsequent run-up means that I left money on the table, but that is somewhat typical for we value types. Often early to the party, we are also usually the first to leave.

At the time of publication, Heller had no positions in the stocks mentioned.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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