Inter Miami co-owner wants to sell stake in franchise; business partner Masayoshi Son also looking to sell his interest in franchise.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (13-July-2021) —
Marcelo Claure, a co-owner of Inter Miami CF and currently the Executive Vice President & COO, SoftBank Group Corp. is looking to sell his percentage ownership in the soccer franchise, per reports. A Bolivian-American who made his fortune by founding wireless communications company Brightstar in the Miami suburb of Doral, Claure also served in the past as the CEO of Sprint, prior to the deal with T-Mobile. He also ran WeWork (We Company) in connection with a multibillion-dollar investment by SoftBank. and Softbank’s tech-focussed Vision Fund. Claure spearheads the $5 billion SoftBank Latin America Fund as CEO of SBLA Advisers Corp. and founded the SB Opportunity Fund, a $100 million fund dedicated to investing in entrepreneurs of color. (Link: Softbank Latin America Fund.)
Claure, 50, is also the owner of Club Bolivar, Bolivia’s top professional team from La Paz. Claure has also become active in European football investments, in 2020 completing purchase of a 35% ownership stake in Girona Football Club, who narrowly missed promotion to La Liga for a second consecutive season and will play again this season in LaLiga Smartbank, Spain’s second division.
Billionaire co-owner Masayoshi Son is also looking to sell his stake in the organization. Son is the founder of Tokyo-based SoftBank, and is rumoured to be one of the wealthiest people in Japan.
Who owns Inter Miami?
The question of the team’s ownership is complicated by Major League Soccer’s rules. The league’s legal structure is that of a limited liability company; thus the ‘owners’ of each team actually own a membership interest in the league itself. They are investors in the league. The league technically owns all teams and player contracts and grants investment groups an exclusive license to operate a team in a particular market. With the exception of New York and Los Angeles, each owner is assured of not having an MLS team to compete with in their particular market. This gurantee of a home market monopoly is further backed by the US Soccer Federation, which grants leagues licenses to operate as a Division I or II league. MLS is the only league with D-1 status in the United States.
Returning to the question of ownership of Inter Miami, it’s worth pointing out that while many people call Inter Miami “Beckham’s team”, the former star player is in reality a minor shareholder and major cheerleader. The ownership is somewhat complicated by the common business practice of creating entities to own the asset, in this case, the franchise. One such entity is known as Miami Beckham United, LLC (“MBU”). MBU, formed in December 2013, was the original entity used by David Beckham and his partners to obtain the franchise. It is believed MBU holds the license to operate Inter Miami in the South Florida market. Per the Florida Secretary of State’s website, MBU is a Delaware LLC licensed to do business in Florida. Jorge Mas is listed as the president and CEO, Marcelo Claure is chairman and executive vice-president, and in-house lawyer Pablo Alvarez is the secretary and treasurer. An entity known as M Sports Ventures, LLC is also listed at the team’s headquarters in Coral Gables; it may hold the Mas brothers’ interest in the franchise.1
However, another entity known as Inter Miami CF, LLC was filed with the Florida Secretary of State on September 13, 2018, several days after the team revealed its name and identity. This entity is also a Delaware LLC. The president/CEO/EVP is Jorge Mas, while Marcelo Claure is listed as chairman and executive vice-president. It is unknown although plausible that the license to operate the Inter Miami franchise was assigned to Inter Miami CF, LLC.
While it is impossible to determine the respective ownership interests in Inter Miami merely by looking at public records such as the respective corporate records that must be filed with states’ secretaries of states, Richard Perez, an attorney for Miami Beckham United, told the Miami Herald in 2019 that the owners of that company are Marcelo Claure, who has a 37.5 percent stake in the team; Jorge Mas and his brother Jose, who have another 37.5 percent; Masayoshi Son, SoftBank CEO, who owns 15 percent; and Beckham who owns 10 percent. Whether that is still the correct respective interests is unknown, but it does suggest that Marcelo Claure’s stake in Inter Miami is significant.
Separate from MBU or Inter Miami CF, LLC is another company set up to lease public land (Miami Freedom Park, LLC, and which would be the lessee of a potential stadium in Miami at the Melreese Golf Club (see photo below), a saga which has been running for close to three years. This entity is entirely owned by Jorge Mas.
It was reported in The Athletic via their sources that the relationship between Claure and managing owner Jorge Mas has been rocky for a significant amount of time. This may have been exaserbated by last year’s rules violation involving the signing of Blaise Matuidi and other players. Claure, despite still being listed as club chairman, has not been actively involved in the organization’s operations in months, and has not been seen at a single Inter Miami game this season. Jorge Mas represents Inter Miami on the MLS board of governors.
Marcelo was a key figure in Miami’s efforts to be awarded an MLS team. In 2008, just a few years after the Miami Fusion franchise was taken away by MLS, Claure began talks to bring an MLS side to Miami. (The Fusion, despite their name, were a Fort Lauderdale team, playing at the former Lockhart Stadium, the same site that Inter Miami now calls home at the team’s new stadium, DRV PNK Stadium.)
Claure was in serious talks with FC Barcelona about forming a partnership to establish a Barça owned MLS team in Miami. That effort failed during the banking crisis in the US and the plan was scrapped in March 2009. Known for possessing a tenacious personality, Claure persisted in his goal of obtaining suitable partners to bring MLS to Miami, an effort that eventually paid dividends when he was introduced to David Beckham. He partnered with Beckham and British entrepreneur Simon Fuller in February 2014 in a new effort to bring an MLS team to the market. This lead to the first announcement of Beckham’s intent to bring a team to Miami on February 5, 2014 at the Pérez Art Museum in downtown Miami.
In December 2017, after more than three years of misteps, no progress in trying to find a stadium location in Miami, and changes to the ownership group and its advisorsy team, and just when it seemed that his dream could not be realised, the Mas brothers and Son joined the ownership group, a move that cemented the agreement with MLS to return. At the time of Inter’s entry into the league, Claure was extremely complimentary of the Miami-based Mas brothers, who were billed as having the local connections the investment group had lacked in order to push the expansion effort and a stadium deal across the finish line. Soon thereafter, the team was formally announced as an MLS franchise on January 29, 2018 at a major event in downtown Miami. Inter Miami began its inaugural season in 2020.
What Is The Value of Claure and Son’s Interest in Inter Miami?
The Athletic reported that Jorge and Jose Mas have an option to buy Claure and Son’s membership interests (i.e. shares) for $270 million (€204.5), which would value the Fort Lauderdale side at $540 million, or €460.2 / £390 million, which is a remarkable valuation for what has been so far one of MLS’ most dysfunctional franchises. Indeed, Beckham has done well considering his option to buy an MLS expansion franchise was for $25 million.
It also shows the rise in value of MLS franchises. The most recent franchise, the 28th, which will be in Charlotte, NC, cost its investors $325 million in December 2019. The current MLS broadcast agreement is worth less than the English Championship. Expect that to change in the next broadcast rights’ deal that will begin in 2024.
Are There Any Interested Purchasers? (NEW 12-Aug-2021)
While Jorge and Jose Mas could easily find the money needed to buy out Claure and Son, an act that would raise their ownership interest to around 85 percent from its current 37.5, it is logical to believe that they prefer to have additional investors. Even for billionaires there is value in spreading around the risk of running a business.
In short, thee are two interested purchasers according to reports: a wealthy Saudi and an Argentine consortium that would like Lionel Messi to be the face of their football empire. Of these two, the so-called “Team Messi” is believed to be the frontrunner, as the prospect of having Leo Messi playing in an Inter Miami kit is too mouthwatering for the investors to ignore.
No information has been found thus far on the identity of these potential purchasers. If negotiations are ongoing, Inter Miami and MLS have done an excellent job of keeping it a secret. The potential involvement of a Saudi investor may explain why the sponsorship deal with Qatar Airways did not materialise. Whatever person/group emerges as the purchasers of the Claure/Son interests, they will certainly enjoy Miami’s reputation as the playground of the rich.
1 An entity search shows no records in the Florida Secretary of State for M Sports Ventures, LLC. However, an entity with the same name is registered in the Delaware Secretary of State’s records; that business was formed on July 20, 2017. The timing coincides with Jorge Mas’ bid to buy the Miami Marlins baseball team.