As Robert Sarver prepares to sell the NBA's Phoenix Suns and the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury, investment bank officials who have managed the sales of professional sports franchises told ESPN that they expect the transaction's final price to set a record.
"It'll be the highest price ever paid for an NBA team," one investment bank official said.
Joe Tsai bought the Brooklyn Nets for an NBA-record $2.35 billion in 2019. Prior to that sale, Tilman Fertitta purchased the Houston Rockets for $2.2 billion in 2017, with Steve Ballmer buying the LA Clippers for $2 billion in 2014.
Factors playing into a potential record bid could be the Suns' warm-weather climate and proximity to Los Angeles, Las Vegas and the Bay Area, as well as the team's new practice facility and renovated arena. Additional factors include a new television rights deal and CBA on the horizon, plus the NBA's young and growing global audience and the potential for new expansion teams in Seattle and Las Vegas.
"There's going to be a tremendous amount of interest," an investment bank official said.
Sarver has chosen the investment bank Moelis & Company to oversee the sale, a source close to the situation confirmed to ESPN. Sportico reported Monday that Sarver had chosen the bank. A spokesperson for Moelis & Co. declined to comment.
Moelis served as a financial adviser in the May 2022 sale of Chelsea Football Club to a consortium led by Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital, which bought the team for $5.3 billion. Moelis also acted as a financial adviser in the 2015 sale of the Atlanta Hawks to a group led by Tony Ressler for $850 million.
In recent days, Suns executive vice president and CFO Jim Pitman relayed to team employees that a fully executed sale of the team could take six to nine months, team sources said. That timeline would stretch through the 2022-23 season.
The Suns did not respond to a request for comment. The NBA declined comment.
Investment bank officials have been in contact with Sarver on behalf of potential bidders, team sources said, including reaching out on the day that Sarver announced his intent to sell.
Once a final bidder is chosen, that person -- or group -- must be approved by the NBA, which will conduct financial, personal and criminal background checks. For any transfer of ownership to be complete, the NBA board of governors will vote, with approval requiring a three-fourths majority.
Sarver, the majority owner of both the Suns and Mercury, announced Sept. 21 that he was seeking buyers for both franchises. That came in the wake of an NBA investigation into allegations of misconduct by Sarver, who had been suspended one year and fined $10 million.
The NBA commissioned that investigation in the wake of an ESPN story in November 2021 detailing allegations of racism and misogyny during Sarver's 17 years as owner.
Suns vice chairman and minority owner Sam Garvin is the team's interim governor. Sarver owns about a third of the franchise, but he has the authority as the team's managing partner to sell the team in full.
Jerry Colangelo, who sold the team to a group led by Sarver in 2004 for a then-record $401 million, told ESPN that he's optimistic about the franchise's path ahead.
"I believe this -- it's one of the great markets in the country as it relates to the future," Colangelo said. "It was a great free agent destination at one time. There's no reason why it can't be going forward."