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Riddell Tackles Growth with Strategic $400M Boost from BC Partners


Lauren Miller

April 3, 2024 - 10:52 am


Riddell Secures Game-Changing $400 Million Investment from BC Partners Credit Arm

In a strategic financial play, the credit division of BC Partners has consummated a definitive agreement to inject a substantial $400 million into the esteemed football helmet manufacturer Riddell. This infusion of capital is anticipated to bestow a sizeable fiscal windfall upon Riddell's current shareholders, prominent among them being the private equity firm Fenway Partners. This revelation was unearthed from a declaration that Bloomberg News had the opportunity to review.

The substantial majority of the investment, exceeding $300 million, is designated for the redemption of capital to shareholders. Concurrently, a more modest tranche has been allocated for the settlement of Riddell's pre-existing financial obligations. This distribution strategy was pieced together by an informant privy to the transaction's finer details, with the stipulation of anonymity due to the matter's confidentiality.

Fenway's Strategic Cash-Out

This financial maneuver signals a burgeoning pattern within the realm of private equity. Acquisition-heavy firms are increasingly soliciting direct lenders to redistribute capital to stakeholders, especially when they are hampered by challenges in divesting from businesses that have been under their umbrella over extended periods. In the context of Fenway, this transaction represents a lucrative avenue to liquidate assets from an aging investment – having acquired Riddell back in the year 2003. Notably, the prospect of acquiring Riddell has been met with tepid enthusiasm, partly attributed to the legal controversy surrounding concussions associated with its helmet products.

Representatives at Riddell have taken a path of discretion, opting not to issue any comments on this development. Similarly, Fenway has refrained from engaging in the public discourse regarding the matter. BC Partners, on the other hand, has retained a similar stance, electing not to elaborate on the specifics of the deal's framework beyond what their statement outlines.

An Innovative Financing Structure

This investment is intricately architected as a senior lending facility. It is composed of a $250 million term loan alongside a $25 million delayed draw term loan, coupled with $125 million of convertible preferred equity. These details were disclosed by an individual who is conversant with these proceedings.

BC Partners' credit sector emerged victorious in securing the financing rights, with their ability to offer a dual-faceted financial solution being a significant factor in their success. Ted Goldthorpe, the esteemed head of credit at BC Partners, shared insights into the dynamics of the transaction.

"Fenway and Riddell were in pursuit of a collaborator, rather than a mere financier," articulates Goldthorpe. "We were approached to provide a comprehensive solution, unlike conventional direct loans which typically focus on a singular aspect. Our proposal stood out as it did not just comprise the first-lien loan, but included convertible preferred instruments too," he added during an interview session.

Riddell's Forward Play

The headquarters of Riddell, situated in Des Plaines, Illinois, is recognized for providing cutting-edge helmets to the prestigious National Football League (NFL). It additionally holds exclusive licensing rights for the production of collectible helmets catered to the enthusiast market. In pursuit of strategic options, Riddell previously initiated a sales process with the aim to change hands for a valuation in the vicinity of $800 million. However, as offer prices failed to align with expectations earlier this year, the company halted its sales attempt. Instead, it opted for an investment that assured the perpetuation of Fenway's status as the preeminent shareholder, as per the information from the knowledgeable source.

The complete article can be accessed via the following Bloomberg link: Bloomberg News Article.

Looking into the Future

As the financial landscape of sports-related businesses continues to evolve, transactions such as the one between BC Partners and Riddell underscore the significance of strategic partnerships and innovative financing. The direct lending framework is proving to be a game-changer, empowering private equity firms to optimize asset management and effectively navigate the complexities of mature investments.

Riddell's position in the sports equipment industry, bolstered by this fresh infusion of capital and strategic backing by BC Partners, places it firmly on a trajectory for growth and expansion. With the set-back from the paused sale process, this investment denotes a pivotal point, not only ensuring operational stability but also potentially enabling the football helmet maker to elevate its market presence and innovate further in safety technology for athletes.

In the broader context of sporting goods manufacturing and especially within the context of safety equipment, Riddell's trajectory is one to watch. The legal concerns over injuries in contact sports have placed manufacturers like Riddell under intense scrutiny and driven the industry to prioritise advancements in safety technology. BC Partners' investment could fuel Riddell's research and development to address these critical issues, enhancing the safety of players across various levels of the sport, from professional leagues to academic institutions and amateur competitions.

Positioning for Market Leadership

With the current investment structuring, BC Partners has facilitated a strategic composition that provides Riddell with a fortified financial foundation. The inherent flexibility within the financing structure, notably the convertible preferred equity, offers a potential path for BC Partners to convert their investment into equity, aligning their interests directly with Riddell's future successes.

This strategic move also provides insight into the confidence BC Partners has in Riddell's market position and long-term potential. The alignment of Riddell's goals with innovative financial engineering could be the catalyst for the company to redefine itself as a leader in the space of athletic safety gear, potentially reshaping the landscape of the entire industry.

Nevertheless, the focal point of this transaction is not solely a financial one. Instead, it encapsulates the embrace of a partnership ethos. As Goldthorpe of BC Partners indicated, the need for a partner-led approach was pivotal. It's an ethos that emphasizes collaborative enhancement rather than a transitory capital injection—an approach that is likely to spur both stability and innovation within Riddell's operational framework.

A Game of Numbers and Beyond

While it's easy to get fixated on the numbers – the $400 million investment, the distribution of the financial components, and the overall valuation ambitions – it is imperative to recognize the tangible impact of such transactions. The financial metrics translate into potential for more secure jobs, advancements in sport safety research, amplified community involvement, and the promotion of sporting culture.

The subsequent developments from this investment will be closely monitored by market analysts, sporting associations, and consumer safety advocates alike. Riddell's trajectory will provide a fascinating case study in balancing the demands of financial performance with the essential need for player safety and corporate responsibility.

The Impact on Fenway Partners and Private Equity Trends

For Fenway Partners, the return on their long-term investment in Riddell could provide the impetus for further strategic expansions or divestments within their portfolio. How they allocate the returned capital could influence their market positioning and industry perception in the near future.

This transaction also serves as a potential blueprint for other private equity firms wrestling with older assets that have borne the brunt of market fluctuations, operational challenges, or branding detriments. Direct lending emerges as a viable tool, offering pathways to liquidity and strategic resilience.

As the dust settles on this major financial deal, the focus must now pivot to execution and realization of the latent potential within Riddell's strategic blueprint. With a fortified capital base, a partner-centric finance structure, and a legacy of industry prominence, Riddell is equipped to carve a niche as a beacon of innovation and safety in the competitive arena of sports technology and equipment.

In conclusion, the announcement of BC Partners' sizable investment in Riddell is more than just a monetary transaction. It is a reflection of the evolving financial strategies within the private equity sector, the intricacies of sports equipment manufacturing, and the underlying narratives of safety, innovation, and partnership. It is a forward pass that could set a new strategic play in motion for the realm of sports safety and equipment—a play that all stakeholders, from investors to athletes, will be watching with keen interest.