Sports are back. Kind of. Hopefully. And that should be good news for investors in sports stocks.
To be sure, sports aren’t all the way back. The NBA plans to finish its season in what it calls the “bubble” in Orlando, Florida. But several players already have opted out, and there are worries about what might happen if more players test positive for the novel coronavirus.
Major League Baseball is embarking on a 60-game schedule. The NFL plans to start on time, but many such plans have gone by the wayside in recent months. More still may do the same.
Still, there’s reason for hope as normalcy slowly returns. And the resumption of games, even on abbreviated schedules, should be good news for sports stocks. It’s no exaggeration to say that billions of dollars in gate revenues, ad sales and media rights fees have been lost. Now, professional leagues (and eventually college conferences) can start to recoup some of those losses. So can their customers, suppliers and advertisers.
With many stocks in the group still down year-to-date, and a few down sharply, there are potential value plays. Even those stocks that haven’t fallen too far still have hopes of catching up to a market that is quickly erasing its losses. For investors interested in betting on the resumption of sports in the U.S. and worldwide, here are 10 intriguing picks:
- The Liberty Braves Group (NASDAQ:BATRA, NASDAQ:BATRK)
- Madison Square Garden Sports (NYSE:MSGS)
- MSG Networks (NYSE:MSGN)
- Manchester United (NYSE:MANU)
- Nike (NYSE:NKE)
- Dover Motorsports (NYSE:DVD)
- Disney (NYSE:DIS)
- Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA)
- World Wrestling Entertainment (NYSE:WWE)
- Churchill Downs (NASDAQ:CHDN)
10 Sports Stocks: Liberty Braves Group (BATRA, BATRK)
Liberty Braves owns MLB’s Atlanta Braves, along with a mixed-use development surrounding its stadium. But it’s worth noting that BATRA and BATRK stock don’t offer direct ownership in the franchise.
Rather, both stocks are classes of a tracking stock issued by Liberty Media. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, or unusual. Liberty has tracking stocks for its stakes in Sirius XM (NASDAQ:SIRI) and Formula One (NASDAQ:FWONA) as well.
That technical issue aside, Liberty Braves is an interesting pick. The stock (including all three classes, one of which is not publicly traded) has a market capitalization just under $1 billion. For the franchise and the mixed-use development (which still requires roughly $200 million in funding), that doesn’t seem particularly onerous.
After all, before the pandemic, sports franchises had steadily increased in value. And earlier this year, even with the coronavirus raging, Forbes pegged the Braves as worth $1.8 billion.
For baseball fans, let alone Braves fans, BATRA is a fun stock to own. It’s also a fun stock to gift. And the good news is that investors owning BATRA or BATRK for bragging rights or fan status might well be getting a good deal in the process.
Madison Square Garden Sports (MSGS)
Until recently, the Braves were the only U.S. professional team in which investors could buy shares. (The NFL’s Green Bay Packers sell stock on occasion, most recently in 2012, but that stock has essentially zero practical value).
That changed in April. The former Madison Square Garden spun off its entertainment businesses into Madison Square Garden Entertainment (NYSE:MSGE). It then renamed itself to account for its remaining portfolio.
Most notably, that portfolio includes the NBA’s Knicks and the NHL’s Rangers, along with minor league teams and practice facilities. And as InvestorPlace analyst Matt McCall pointed out last week, Forbes has valued those two teams alone at $6.2 billion. MSGS has a market capitalization of $3.7 billion, and net debt should be only about $250 million.
The question is if and when that value will be catalyzed. James Dolan, who controls the company, has said he’d be willing to sell at the right price. He noted that he’d received “feelers” that suggested a price in the $5 billion range. But no real bid has come, and it’s purely up to Dolan as to whether the team, or MSGS as a whole, would be sold.
Of course, if such an offer came through, MSGS stock would soar. In the meantime, patient investors can buy the Knicks and Rangers at a time when both franchises are struggling terribly. At some point in the next few years, one good free-agent signing for both teams could change their fortunes — and those of MSGS stock.
MSG Networks (MSGN)
Several years before the entertainment spinoff, MSG spun off its television network, MSG Networks. Of late, MSGN stock has struggled. Shares touched an all-time low in early April, and a sharp bounce has faded of late.
The core concern with MSGN is simple: It shouldn’t actually be put in a basket of sports stocks. Almost 90% of revenue comes from affiliation fees paid by cable companies. A decent chunk of that revenue is coming from cable and satellite customers who aren’t sports fans at all.
And so cord-cutting represents a real threat to profits. A reasonably leveraged balance sheet amplifies that risk. But with the stock back at $10, value investors should be intrigued. Shares trade at an almost stunning 4x (yes, four times) next year’s consensus earnings per share estimate.
If the company can keep per-subscriber fees going up, it can mitigate at least some of the pressure from subscriber losses. And here, too, if the Knicks, Rangers or the New Jersey Devils of the NHL can find a way to spark enthusiasm, there may be a boost to the share price as ratings and ad revenues rise.
Manchester United (MANU)
Manchester United is one of the more interesting sports stocks, and maybe the most interesting. MANU stock hasn’t been much of a performer since its initial public offering in 2012. The stock was priced at $14. It currently trades below $16 with a small dividend.
Even at these levels, MANU doesn’t look all that cheap. Here, too, the Forbes valuation ($3.8 billion) suggests upside against a market capitalization of $2.6 billion. But Manchester United has debt on the balance sheet, which narrows that gap. Earnings are only modestly positive. Free cash flow numbers are better, but the staggering sums required for transfer payments offset that benefit.
Still, Manchester United is one of the world’s premier sporting franchises. Like Dolan’s Knicks, performance has been disappointing Like Dolan’s Knicks, management decisions have been questionable. Manchester United, however, has a larger fan base (it’s truly a global team at this point) and no salary cap. It seems likely that the squad can get back to the top of European soccer — and that might be enough to move MANU stock out of its doldrums.
Nike will be fine. The company is coming off an unsurprisingly ugly fiscal fourth-quarter report, in which revenue declined 38% year-over-year. But NKE is one of the great sports stocks. In fact, it’s one of the great American stocks, period.
Valuation is a bit of a concern: NKE trades at 30x next year’s consensus EPS estimate. But those earnings estimates are depressed by lingering coronavirus effects. The return of the NBA should drive sales higher. So, too, should the postponed Olympics, now being held in 2021.
To be honest, I’d like to see the stock a bit cheaper. But over the long haul, Nike stock is likely to get back to its winning ways.
Dover Motorsports (DVD)
Dover Motorsports is the last of the publicly traded NASCAR track operators. The two giants in the sport, International Speedway and Speedway Motorsports, both went private last year.
That alone makes DVD stock intriguing, as at some point it would seem likely that either of the larger rivals would make a bid. The problem is that such a thesis has held for at least a decade now. No offer has been forthcoming, and Dover stock has continued to fade.
But there are hopes that this time is different. The same group that controls Dover Motorsports sold Dover Downs Gaming & Entertainment, its former corporate sibling, to Twin Rivers Worldwide (NYSE:TRWH). It’s now reportedly looking to do the same with Rollins (NYSE:ROL), the trophy asset.
Meanwhile, Dover’s long-dormant track outside Nashville, Tennessee somewhat surprisingly was awarded an annual NASCAR race starting next year. That could change the Dover story — and make DVD more attractive as a takeover play going forward.
It seems likely that the long-awaited end to that story is approaching. With DVD below $1.50, that leaves an intriguing bull case for the micro-cap stock.
Few major companies need sports to return more than Disney. The company’s ESPN unit already has weighed on the stock in recent years. With sports all but canceled, cord-cutting has accelerated, creating the same affiliate fee pressure on ESPN that’s been seen at MSG Networks and other content providers.
Much of the focus relative to DIS stock has been on the movie, cruise and theme park businesses, which obviously have their own coronavirus issues with which to deal. But ESPN remains the company’s largest profit center.
Getting that business back to normal could mitigate worries elsewhere. And that in turn could get investors back to focusing on the hugely successful Disney+ streaming service — which had led DIS to all-time highs before the pandemic struck.
Comcast might seem an odd choice for a list of sports stocks. The company does own regional sports networks, but those businesses account for only a small amount of its overall earnings.
But live sports, particularly in an age of cord-cutting, can drive demand for higher-speed broadband. And that is far and away the company’s most important business. A return to sports could also help the video business, by slowing the pace of cord-cutting. YouTube TV’s price hike may further limit the desire of true sports fans to cancel their cable subscriptions.
Comcast stock, from a long-term perspective, still looks like an attractive play. The return of sports could remove a key stumbling block and allow the stock to get back to past levels — and potentially beyond.
World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE)
World Wrestling Entertainment too might seem a strange choice as a sports stock. The company itself says that it provides “sports entertainment.”
It’s also not a perfect stock to own at the moment. Earnings have stalled out of late, as the company has struggled to replace past stars like The Rock and John Cena. Viewership on traditional platforms is down.
Still, it’s not wise to bet against WWE head Vince McMahon. A new star may arrive at some point. WWE likely added new fans (or recaptured old ones) during the last two months, and first-quarter earnings were particularly strong.
Once again, WWE seems like a turnaround play. And a 27x forward price-earnings multiple suggests that some success is priced in. It’s important to remember, however, that we’ve been here before — and when WWE has seemed down for the count, it’s historically gotten back up and rebounded nicely.
Churchill Downs (CHDN)
The nation’s premier horse racing track operator is much more than a horse racing play. To be sure, the namesake track in Kentucky is a massively profitable enterprise. Nearly all of the earnings from the track come from the Kentucky Derby — but those earnings were $138 million in 2019. The race returns in September, which hopefully is far enough away to allow for the return of spectators.
Meanwhile, Churchill Downs’ TwinSpires unit is a leader in online betting on horse racing (which is legalized nationwide via an act of Congress). And the company is a significant, and growing, operator of brick-and-mortar casinos.
But it’s what Churchill Downs isn’t — yet — that makes CHDN stock interesting among sports stocks. The stock is a quiet play on legalized sports betting in the U.S. TwinSpires gives the company years of experience and expertise in operating an online platform, promoting efficiently and offering the correct odds. The brick-and-mortar reach gives the company access to key markets like Illinois (where Churchill Downs operates Arlington racetrack).
To be sure, valuation is a bit of a concern. CHDN gets a significant premium to other casino operators. Shares are down just 3% year-to-date despite coronavirus impacts. But as seen with the likes of DraftKings (NASDAQ:DKNG) and Penn National (NASDAQ:PENN), investors see huge potential profits from online sports betting, in particular. If Churchill Downs can be a winner in that race, Churchill Downs stock will be a winner in the market, even at this price.
Vince Martin has covered the financial industry for close to a decade for InvestorPlace.com and other outlets. He has no positions in any securities mentioned.