Securitization, one of the hottest games on Wall Street nowadays, may be coming to the world of sports.
The English soccer team Newcastle United may soon, according to a trader, be offering securities backed by prospective ticket and merchandise sales to its loyal fans.
Ratings agency officials in the United States say North American sports franchises have pitched securitizations as well, but no deals have been issued yet.
No underwriter has been named to market any prospective Newcastle securitization, nor has the size of the deal been decided.
Other soccer teams in England and Italy, which enjoy huge fan followings, are reported to be exploring securitization as well, as a means of raising money quickly. Rapidly escalating player salaries is said to be the motivation.
Should securities backed by future ticket sales be brought to market, it would add credence to the asset-backed traders' mantra: "If it's got cash flow, it can be securitized."
Securitization is used most often by banks and finance companies to transfer credit card or mortgage receivables from their books to investors. The issuers get their money right away, and investors collect more yield than they usually get from corporate bonds. New assets are introduced continuously.
And investors have demonstrated quite an appetite for some unusual securities. Last year, for instance, a $55 million deal backed by future sales of David Bowie records was quickly snapped up by Prudential Insurance Co.
Securities backed by unsold tickets to soccer games that haven't been played or even scheduled might sound strange, but they could be structured, said David Pullman, a vice president at Fahnestock & Co. who arranged the Bowie securitization and is now preparing a similar deal for the Crosby, Stills, and Nash recording group.
"You look for consistency of cash flows in these deals," Mr. Pullman said. "Newcastle is usually a good team, and they sell out their stadium year after year, so the consistency is there."
Paul Secchia, managing director in London for Moody's Investors Service, agreed that sports securitizations could cut the credit mustard.
Bankers, he observed, have successfully placed unsold airline tickets with investors in the past year. Securitizing unsold game tickets "would be similar to airlines but maybe as risky as David Bowie," he said.
Still, important obstacles would hinder any sports securitization. The cost of tracking future sales of assets is so high, Mr. Secchia said, that it is a poor way for sports franchises to raise money.
And commercial banks that lend teams money are unlikely to be pleased with their selling off a prime revenue source.
For this reason, Mr. Secchia said, securitization is most likely when a sports team is sold and new ownership, with new credit lines, securitizes assets to help finance the acquisition.
In addition to funding sports teams, securitizations may become useful to local and state governments that are shelling out millions to build new ballparks and arenas, said David Tesher, who analyzes new asset classes for Standard & Poor's Corp. Securitizing the government's share of stadium earnings could be a way to help cover expenses quickly, he said.