A Net Positive for the Atlanta Braves: Liberty Media’s Decision to Split Off the Team’s Stock Explained

Even accounting for the NLDS loss to the Philadelphia Phillies in four games, the Atlanta Braves had a very good season this year. The 2021 World Series champions won 100 games for the first time since 2003 and clinched the NL East for the fifth year in a row.

There’s plenty for fans to be excited about going forward. But significant behind-the-scenes moves are occurring that could make a huge impact on the Braves’ future

Fans cheer as Austin Riley of the Atlanta Braves throws the ball after making a catch
Atlanta Braves third basemen Austin Riley throws the ball after making a catch | Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Atlanta Braves aren’t the only major sports asset owned by Liberty Media

Mass media company Liberty Media started in 1991. They bought the Braves from Time Warner in 2007 for $400 million. This makes the franchise one of two MLB teams under majority corporate ownership. (The other team is the Toronto Blue Jays, controlled by Canadian media giant Rogers Communications.)

According to Forbes, the Braves are the 10th most valuable franchise in the league, with a value of $2.1 billion. The success of that investment compelled them to make their way into a different sport. In 2016, Liberty Media bought the Formula One Group for $4.6 billion. 

The conglomerate also owns a major way of following sports outside the stadium. They spent $530 million on SiriusXM Radio in 2009, when the satellite radio provider was on the brink of bankruptcy. 

Splitting the Braves into their own stock should be a positive for the franchise

Liberty recently announced plans to split the Braves into a separate publicly traded company with its own stock. In his newsletter, Huddle Up, sports reporter Joseph Pompliano explains how the move will work and how it will affect the team’s financial situation. 

The new company will be called Atlanta Braves Holdings, Inc. The entity will oversee the franchise, all current assets and liabilities of Truist Park, a $400 million development project near the stadium called The Battery, and related corporate cash. The split should be made official early next year. Liberty Media President and CEO Greg Maffei explained:

“These actions will provide greater investor choice and enable targeted investment and capital-raising through more focused currencies while maintaining an optimal capital structure for Liberty Media and preserving optionality with respect to our subsidiary SiriusXM and our Live Nation stake.”

In layman’s terms, this move will clarify the Braves’ financial status. Atlanta earned $443 million in revenue in 2021 (World Series wins are great for the bottom line). Their operating income was $83 million. Bringing in even more money could help them poach more talent from other teams and keep the next Freddie Freeman from walking out the door. 

“We were eighth in payroll this season, up from the mid-teens the last couple of years, and I fully expect in the next few years we are going to be in the top five. We can afford it,” Maffei affirmed.

It could also be the first step for Liberty Media to sell the Atlanta Braves 

This specific type of financial restructuring could potentially foreshadow a sale of the Braves down the line. 

Before any team is put up for sale, it must be converted to an asset-based stock. Liberty Media making this move now could be viewed as preparing the runway for future maneuvers by eliminating potential tax issues.  

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“Malone hasn’t said the Braves are for sale. According to tax accountants, however, companies with tracking-stock structures have to convert them into asset-backed stocks before the companies can be sold,” says Forbes‘ Mike Ozanian. “It appears the Braves’ conversion will happen in 2023. Malone would then have to wait a while to sell, perhaps in 2024, according to analysts.”

The split could lead to a lucrative sale or make it easier for them to extract value from the franchise. Braves fans will just have to wait and see what happens.