Sports fans from Peoria to Portland recently rejoiced, on news that National Football League owners and players had reached a new labor agreement, thereby ending a months’ long work stoppage and salvaging virtually all of the 2011-2012 season (one week of preseason drama will apparently be scrapped). Investors can also breathe a sigh of relief now that the overhang has been removed and the NFL-related businesses of several public companies are no longer at risk. Here’s our current take on three such names.
Buffalo Wild Wings (BWLD) is one of the most recognizable investment plays on the NFL’s burgeoning popularity. Through 770-plus wholly-owned and franchised casual eateries, the Minneapolis-based company is squarely focused on appealing to rabid sports fans and, in effect, being the place to be when you can’t make it to the stadium. Each of its restaurants has up to ten large projection screens and 50 additional flat screen monitors, so that patrons won’t miss a second of the action on the field. What’s more, the menu, including the company’s signature Buffalo, NY-style chicken wings, is evocative of the type of hearty fare served up at stadium tailgating parties (the company is even trying to make “table-gating” part of the popular vernacular).
Estimates vary about the NFL’s impact on company results. But it’s likely that pro football-related customer traffic accounts for nearly 10% of BWLD’s full-year revenue and at least $0.50 per share in earnings during the 17-week regular season. The company, itself, is surely well aware of the NFL’s importance to its operations. During the work stoppage, it actually began a “Save Our Season” petition on Facebook, which drew in excess of five million “signatures.”
Though hard hit during the recession, BWLD shares have since regained their footing and reached an all-time high of $69 and change earlier this year (up 1,325% from the split-adjusted November, 2003 IPO price of $4.25). And, while the current quotation (around $61) seems to discount much of the company’s good long-term prospects, the stock may appeal to momentum-oriented trading accounts. Too, a debt-free balance sheet and a growing amount of cash on hand give management plenty of financial flexibility.
DIRECTV (DTV), the nation’s leading marketer of satellite-delivered Pay-TV service, also looms fairly large in the broad NFL eco-system. The company’s NFL Sunday Package (NFLSP) allows subscribers to tune into any NFL game during the season. Thus a transplanted Midwesterner living in Charlotte can regularly watch his (or her) beloved Packers (instead of the hapless Panthers). While NFLSP, in and of itself, isn’t much of a money maker for the California-based company (management recently described it as a “loss leader”, akin to the dairy aisle for many supermarkets), it drives DIRECTV’s core service offering, as well as sales of add-ons like digital-video-recorders. Of DTV’s 19.2 million U.S. subscribers, roughly two million (or just over 10%) are signed up for NFLSP.
Going forward, NFLSP should remain a key differentiating factor for DIRECTV in an increasingly competitive (and mature) market for pay-TV services in the United States. What’s more, excess cash generated by the company’s domestic operations should be ample enough to fund ongoing growth initiatives in Latin America, where residential pay-TV penetration is still relatively low.
DIRECTV has given investors plenty to cheer about in 2011. Its shares have rallied 24% through early August, easily eclipsing the S&P 500’s 1% advance. What’s more, there’s a good chance that the issue continues to outperform over the next few years, as the company grabs a bigger slice of the Latin American market and becomes a little more aggressive, in terms of deploying excess capital.
Yahoo! (YHOO) is perhaps a less obvious NFL play. Among its many assets, the California-based media giant boasts the web’s most popular fantasy football (FF) franchise. An estimated 35 million people play NFL FF, and more of those gamers connect through Yahoo’s site than any other. Associated revenues are largely generated from the sale of banner advertisements. And, while the company doesn’t divulge its FF-related ad revenues, the take is probably pretty substantial, given Yahoo’s leading market position in the space and the often-elusive demographic that tends to play fantasy sports (read: males in their 20s and 30s). That said, shareholders in Yahoo have been on the proverbial losing end over the past several years. Indeed, from an early 2006 peak of nearly $44, the stock is down about 70%. And, given, in part, stiff competition from the likes of Google (in Internet search), Yahoo may not regain its stride anytime soon.
At the time of this article's writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.