Meet the New Superowner

The Brooklyn Nets are paying over $100 million in luxury tax for the 2013-2014 season. They’re going to try to buy themselves a championship, and they’re paying through the nose for it. And the most remarkable thing about the entire affair, is that their new owner, Mikhail Prokhorov seems to have no problem with that. In fact, that $100 million is just a drop in Prokhorov’s $13 billion fortune. Soccer fans have dealt with superowners for almost a decade now, at Chelsea with mega Russian Roman Abramovitch, AS Monaco with Dmitry Rybolovlev, PSG with Nasser Al-Khelaifi and Manchester City’s Sheikh Mansour. Have the superowners come to the NBA now?

Who Is He?

The controversial billionaire owner tends to come in two types. Russian, or Middle Eastern.


The Russian is usually someone who was just old enough when the USSR fell. When Russia became capitalist, dozens of formerly state-owned companies were massively undervalued and sold off to private owners. Through some combination of family connections, backhanders, and ambition, these guys ended up as owners of these companies. How does this make them billionaires?  Take Gazprom for example, once owned by Roman Abramovitch. He bought the oil company for $100 million. As it turns out, a company that controls oil rights in Russia, is worth a whole lot more than that.

In the case of the Middle Eastern billionaire, the case is somewhat similar – though slightly less capitalistic. Most of these billionaires are members of some royal family or other, and through those familial connections, owns his share of petroleum and oil from the Middle East. With literally more money than they could ever spend, going into sport team ownership makes sense for them.

Why Basketball?
Don’t get us wrong, the superowner’s first choice was probably soccer – but new rulings inside that game have slowly made them unwelcome, and unable to flex their financial muscle to buy wins.  Some detractors have also pointed out that sports franchises, with guarantees of easy money, are a perfect money laundering scheme for anyone with money that needs to be cleaned up. 


European soccer is the most prestigious in the world. While Brazil, Argentina and Mexico love it, there’s nobody bragging about winning the Brazilian championship, like Abramovitch brags about winning the English Premier League. But UEFA, European soccer’s governing board, has started to crack down with a series of laws called Financial Fair Play. Under these rules, teams that spend more than they earn could be booted out of tournaments entirely.

But American sports, have no such rules. The Yankees can’t forefeit the World Series for spending too much money. And under the new CBA, basketball teams only have a soft cap and luxury tax. As long as you have the money to spend on luxury tax, you can spend as much as you like.

Will He Get Bored and Go?

One of the most common issues raised with superowners is that they’re treating the teams as a passing fancy. That once they get their ring, they’ll just pack up and go home, and the team will be left with mounting debt, and having to ask an owner halfway around the world to cut a cheque for them. Or they’ll not learn how to build through young players and the draft, and they’ll stay dependent on high priced free agents. That hasn’t been the case so far, but it’s still too early to tell.
We knew Abramovitch at Chelsea didn’t mind cutting fat cheques, and loved watching his team. We don’t know enough about Prokhorov yet to say how he feels about it.  We know Prokhorov’s other ambition, politics, has been flaky at best.  He was elected leader of Russia’s Right Cause Party in 2011, but resigned just three months later.  He ran for President of Russia as an independent in 2012, but lost badly, winning just 7.94 per cent of the vote.  He’s now leader of Russia’s Civic Platform party.  The Nets may  be a real love by Prokhorov, it may be just another part of his public image.  Time will tell.
All we do know so far though, is that once his billionaire friends see Prokhorov hanging out with Jay Z at center court, they certainly will want a piece of that action sooner or later.


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