Beane’s Play for Red Sox Could Signal the End of Moneyball Era

Billy Beane, the baseball executive featured in “Moneyball,” could soon face a straight choice: stick with his long-time franchise the Oakland Athletics or with his investment in the Boston Red Sox, assuming RedBall Acquisition Corp. closes a deal to merge with Red Sox’s owner, according to a person familiar with the matter.

RedBall, a special purpose acquisition company of which Beane is co-chairman, raised $575 million including so-called greenshoe shares in a U.S. initial public offering in August. Bloomberg reported Friday that the SPAC was in talks to acquire less than 25% of Fenway Sports Group, which it values at $8 billion, including debt. A successful deal would also give him a clear route into Liverpool Football Club and English soccer’s Premier League.

No deal has been done and Major League Baseball’s Commissioner’s Office is aware of the situation.

The potential transaction raises issues of whether Beane would have a conflict of interest because of his role with the Athletics, where he has a small equity stake.

“It seems like a clear conflict,” Jason Dana, an associate professor of management and marketing at Yale School of Management, wrote in an email. “A person couldn’t, for example, own two different MLB teams. For the same reasons, this seems to open up the possibility of coordination between two teams, which is bad for the game.”

The Oakland Athletics did not respond to a request for comment.

Win-Win

John Holcomb, a professor of business ethics at the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver, said it wasn’t clear whether RedBall’s investment would be incompatible for Beane.

“I don’t think it constitutes a conflict of interest to invest in a competing enterprise, while trying to win with your own,” wrote Holcomb in an email. “It could just be a win-win, or a good hedging strategy. Should Bill Gates be prohibited from investing in Apple, or Larry Ellison from investing in Google? I don’t think so.”

Beane has flirted with the Red Sox before — he was offered $12.5 million to become their general manager in 2002. And while he rebuffed them and instead accepted an equity stake in the Athletics to remain in their front office, it looks like the opportunity to buy into one of baseball’s premier franchises might be too good to pass up now.

“He wouldn’t be a passive investor,” said Wharton School Professor of Management Maurice Schweitzer. “It doesn’t make sense for a level playing field to be a part owner of two franchises. It wouldn’t be a good look and it’d set a terrible precedent.”

— With assistance by Gillian Tan

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