June 23, 2024

Michael Bloomberg agrees to join Marc Lore-Alex Rodriguez Timberwolves ownership group: Sources

Billionaire businessman and former three-term New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has reached an agreement to join the prospective Minnesota Timberwolves ownership group of Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez, league sources briefed on the agreement tell The Athletic.

Bloomberg, ranked by Forbes in April as the 12th-richest person in the world, brings a major investor to the Lore-Rodriguez group, which currently owns nearly 40 percent of the Timberwolves and WNBA’s Lynx and is in a battle with Glen Taylor for majority control of the franchises. 

Lore and Rodriguez had an agreement with Taylor on a gradual purchase of controlling interest in a multi-step process at a $1.5 billion valuation. The group purchased two chunks of the team in 2021 and ’23 to get to 36 percent equity. They were working to purchase another 40 percent stake for majority control in March when Taylor called off the deal.

Lore and Rodriguez had made a late change in their financing for that $600-plus million chunk, going to Dyal Capital after the Carlyle Group withdrew from the bid. Taylor said at the time that Lore and Rodriguez didn’t have the money to complete the transaction and also missed several benchmarks in the agreement along the way. 

Lore and Rodriguez disputed that characterization, saying they submitted commitment letters for the $600 million needed to get them to 80 percent equity ahead of the March 27 deadline. They pointed to language in the contract that said they were eligible for a 90-day extension to go through the NBA’s approval process.

The two sides have entered into arbitration to resolve the dispute, a process that could take most of the summer to complete.

Lore and Rodriguez have said throughout the ordeal that the money to complete the third tranche purchase for majority control is all ready to go. That $600-plus million would be used to bring their holdings to 80 percent of the franchises while also buying out all of Taylor’s limited partners. That would leave Taylor with a final 20 percent stake in the franchise that they could buy anytime before March 2025.

Adding Bloomberg to the group would allow them to go forward immediately with a final $300-plus million investment to buy out Taylor rather than waiting until the end of next season, league sources said, if things break in their favor.

While Bloomberg is a big name and a considerable financial partner, he is in for only a portion of that $300 million. The rest comes from the existing group Lore and Rodriguez have assembled, which includes themselves, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and others. Lore and Rodriguez will continue to lead their group and serve as the final decision-makers should they get control of the team, the same sources said. If they do win in arbitration, they would still have to be approved by the NBA’s board of governors before officially joining the league’s majority ownership ranks.

Michael Bloomberg has reached an agreement to join the prospective Timberwolves ownership group of Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez. (Charly Triballeau /AFP via Getty Images)

While they navigate the process in front of three neutral arbiters, Lore and Rodriguez have continued to make plans for their takeover should the ruling come out in their favor. The two have long heard skepticism about their ability to not just buy the teams, but run them for years to come. Adding Bloomberg, whose net worth is over $106 billion according to Forbes estimates, brings another deep-pocketed investor into their group. 

Together, the consortium is moving forward with plans to pay the luxury tax next season and beyond, league sources said, if that is what is recommended by president of basketball operations Tim Connelly to support a team that made the Western Conference finals for the first time in 20 years.

With a max contract-filled core of Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert, plus a big extension kicking in for Jaden McDaniels, the Timberwolves are projected next season to be over the second apron, a level of spending that brings steep financial penalties and restrictions on roster management if a team surpasses the threshold for multiple consecutive seasons. 

“Financially, I’ve never been in a better place,” Lore told The Athletic in March. “I’ve got hundreds of millions of dollars of liquid capital sitting in the bank ready to invest should it be necessary.”

The group also is in the middle of developing plans for a new, privately financed arena in Minneapolis to replace Target Center, the second-oldest building in the NBA, league sources said. They have scouted the area in search of a piece of land to put it, and believe they can open a new arena as soon as 2031, the league sources said.

The Timberwolves lease at Target Center currently runs through 2035.  

Lore and Rodriguez have had discussions with several potential partners on a new venue, including the Oak View Group, a prominent sports and commercial real estate investor and developer that redesigned the arena in Seattle that is home to the NHL’s Kraken and is currently working on a new arena in Las Vegas that could house an NBA expansion team. Oak View Group’s CEO is Tim Leiweke, who served as CEO of the Timberwolves in the earliest days of the franchise. They also have had discussions with promoter and venue operator Live Nation, league sources said. 

Lore and Rodriguez also have had conversations with RedBird Capital founder Gerry Cardinale about collaborating on a new regional sports station to carry Timberwolves and Lynx games, in addition to other teams in the area, league sources said. Cardinale has deep connections to the New York Yankees and played a leading role in the formation of the YES Network in New York, which would serve as a model for a potential new venture in the Twin Cities area. 

For years, Timberwolves games have been carried by Bally Sports North, whose parent company has been embroiled in bankruptcy proceedings. Twins games also are a part of the BSN schedule, but they have been unavailable to many fans in the area because of a dispute between Comcast and Diamond Sports Group, which owns BSN. 

All of this is in the vision and planning stage for now. Taylor is still calling the shots while the arbitration process unfolds. He met with Connelly on Tuesday and reached an agreement with him on a restructured contract that moved Connelly’s opt-out provision from this summer to next. The agreement ensured that Connelly will remain in Minnesota for next season, giving the team some stability as it looks to build on the success it had this season.

It also offers Connelly flexibility to see how the ownership situation plays out before committing to anything long-term. All sides remain open to a long-term deal once clarity is established at the highest levels of the organization, team sources said. 

Taylor also has told many in the organization that he is prepared to pay the luxury tax next season as the Wolves chase their first NBA Finals appearance, team sources said.

(Photo of Target Center: Jeff Maillet / The Athletic