Donald V. Watkins
Chasing An NFL Team Ownership Opportunity
Updated: Mar 17, 2019
By Donald V. Watkins
©Copyrighted and Published on December 9, 2018
I have always wanted to own a professional sports team. In 2008, I thought the time was right to chase the opportunity to own an NFL team.
On May 3, 2008, I submitted a package to the National Football League that contained a completed “Owner Background Form” and “Authorization and Consent to Release Records.” The submission of this package was the beginning of the process to compete for a team ownership opportunity in the NFL.
On June 25, 2009, the NFL and St. Louis Rams invited me to make a written presentation to Goldman Sachs in New York regarding the purchase of the Rosenbloom family’s 60% interest in the Rams. Seymour Pierce, Ltd., a 135-year-old, independent London investment bank specializing in the sale and purchase of professional sports teams, arranged my financing for the Rams transaction.
After this presentation, Goldman Sachs qualified me as a bidder for the Rams.
On July 28, 2009, Goldman Sachs invited me to submit a “written, non-binding offer” for up to a 100% interest in The St. Louis Rams Partnership. While the Rosenbloom family was selling its 60% interests, it remained unknown as to whether Rams limited partner Stan Kroenke was selling his 40% interest, as well.
On August 17, 2009, I submitted my written, non-binding offer to Goldman Sachs for the purchase of up to 100% of the Rams. Included in the offer was my detailed plan to liquidate certain Masada Resource Group assets that were owned and/or controlled by me. I secured a $400 million loan commitment letter from Seymour Pierce for 60% of the Rams using my Masada assets as collateral. Citibank, N.A. agreed to provide funding for the loan.
If needed, funding to purchase Kroenke’s 40% interest in the Rams was arranged through a Spanish-owned investment bank via the sale of limited partnerships in the Rams.
After I submitted my bid, Goldman Sachs provided my acquisition team with a Confidential Information Memo and other due diligence materials on the Rams.
On October 12, 2009, Goldman Sachs notified me that I had advanced to the next round in the bid process. I was invited to make a “written, binding offer” for up to a 100% interest in The St. Louis Rams Partnership. I was also provided a definitive purchase agreement as part of this bid invitation package. Goldman Sachs reminded me in writing that Stan Kroenke held a “right of first refusal” in connection with any sale of the Rosenbloom family’s interest in the Rams.
On October 22, 2009, my acquisition team submitted proposed modifications to the purchase agreement to make it mutually acceptable. We also submitted a binding financing commitment letter from Seymour Pierce for the purchase transaction.
On October 29, 2009, I submitted the “written, binding offer” Goldman Sachs requested. Afterwards, there was nothing further for me to do but wait to see two things: (a) whether I submitted the best overall bid, and (b) whether Stan Kroenke was going to “tag-along” with the Rosenbloom family and sell his 40% interest, or exercise his “right of first refusal” to acquire the Rosenbloom’s interest in the Rams.
The wait was excruciating. Weeks turned into months and dragged on. I communicated constantly with Seymour Pierce and JP Morgan, which had been Masada’s investment bank of record since September 4, 2001.
On the last day of the waiting period, Stan Kroenke notified the Rams organization and NFL that he was exercising his “right of first refusal” to become the sole owner of the St. Louis Rams. I was heartbroken, but not defeated.
I knew the NFL had a cross-ownership rule that prohibited a majority owner from also owning another professional sports franchise in America. Kroenke owned the Denver Nuggets at the time he exercised his “right of first refusal.” I thought there was a reasonable chance the NFL would strictly enforce the rule and reject Kroenke’s deal.
I was wrong.
On August 25, 2010, NFL team owners gathered in Atlanta to consider the sale of the Rams to Kroenke. At the end of the meeting, Kroenke was approved as the 100% owner of the Rams.
This event did not deter me. One year later, I cofounded Nabirm Global, LLC, a Birmingham, Alabama and Windhoek, Namibia-based oil and gas exploration company. My company engaged in offshore oil exploration in Namibia. As fate would have it, we learned in September 2018 that Nabirm’s oil block is located in the epicenter of a massive, shallow-water, oil reservoir in the Walvis Basin.
With this great news, I was ready to resume my competition for an NFL team ownership opportunity. There are only 32 NFL teams in the world and I want to own one of them as part of the Watkins family legacy in America.
No one has a constitutional right to own an NFL team. However, preparation, focus, perseverance, hard work, luck, and the ability to turn back the forces that oppose our progress in America will go a long way toward reaching this goal.
PHOTO: St. Louis Rams players running a game winning play.