Ever since it looked like the National Football League would lock out players at the start of the 2011 season in September, Scott Milleisen has been helping several teams prepare for the worst. Mindful that the NFL has a cap of $150 million in secured debt per club, Milleisen, new head of the sports finance group at JPMorgan Chase & Co., is working with his clients to set up term loans or credit lines so they can meet payments and cover potential losses.
“We are setting up a contingency plan in case a stoppage is prolonged,” explains the former college football star.
Since his promotion in June, Milleisen, 35, hasn’t been afraid to carry the ball. He replaces Richard Walden, who was named head of U.S. credit risk for JPMorgan’s private bank. Part of the private bank, the five-member sports group gives advice and financing to high-net-worth individuals and sports teams throughout North America; its clients include 30 teams and owners.
Perhaps its highest-profile deal was advising the Ricketts family on its 2009 purchase of a 95 percent stake in the Chicago Cubs baseball team from Chicago-based Tribune Co., which is owned by real estate magnate Samuel Zell. After a nearly two-year pursuit through treacherous market conditions, the Ricketts family completed the $845 million takeover thanks to a $425 million loan arranged by JPMorgan, Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup.
Milleisen led efforts on behalf of his firm, which served as administrative agent. “I will never forget how he kept things on track as we worked through an extremely complicated transaction to gain the controlling interest in the Cubs during one of the most turbulent economic times in history,” says Cubs chairman Thomas Ricketts in a statement to Institutional Investor.
Milleisen has always been a competitor. A native of Miller Place on New York’s Long Island, he won a football scholarship to Hamilton College, an NCAA Division III school where he also played baseball for two years. The running back made the GTE Academic All–New England football team and is still Hamilton’s all-time rushing leader. “It was a great conference, both athletically and academically,” he says of playing against his college’s fellow Little Ivies.
When Milleisen graduated in 1997 with a BA in economics, he joined J.P. Morgan & Co.’s investment bank in the summer analyst program. He then moved to the private bank, starting out as a credit specialist. As part of his job, Milleisen worked with sports team owners seeking loans for themselves or their franchises. By early 1998 he had been drafted to the newly formed sports finance group, where he’s stayed since J.P. Morgan’s 2000 merger with Chase Manhattan Corp.
With Milleisen in charge, the sports group continues to play the field. Among other things, it’s helping Major League Baseball teams shore up their finances and debt structures to comply with the league’s debt service rule; each team is allowed to take on a debt of 10 times trailing cash flow plus as much as $50 million. Milleisen disputes a recent Los Angeles Times report that nine of the 30 MLB teams are in violation of the rule, arguing that it’s an early-warning test, not a punishment. “So there is no ticking time bomb,” says the father of twin boys.
Several teams are special situations, Milleisen adds. For example, the Los Angeles Dodgers are embroiled in a tug-of-war between divorcing owners Frank and Jamie McCourt that pushed the baseball club to file for bankruptcy protection in June.
Over the past two years, Milleisen’s team has helped to lead lending to the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs. It’s also leading the financing of a new, $515 million baseball stadium for the Florida Marlins, one of its longtime clients.
To succeed in this business, Milleisen asserts, it’s important to look beyond lockouts. “You have got to believe the leagues will come back and people are interested in watching sports,” says the New York Yankees fan. “We have that fundamental belief.” • •