The Houston-born businessman had long dreamed of owning the Houston Rockets, but 24 years ago he failed to do so. Now he has done so by offering a very high price
Tilman Fertitta (No. 693 in Forbes’ global ranking, $2.9 billion fortune) knows full well that he bought the Houston Rockets at a significant premium. The billionaire paid $2.2 billion for the basketball club, setting a new record in NBA history. The previous record was set by Steve Ballmer, who bought the Los Angeles Clippers in 2014 for $2 billion.
The value of the Houston Rockets when Fertitta bought the club was a sensational 35 times EBITDA, but the businessman himself says he pays little attention to the numbers. “You can’t look at the EBITDA of this team and try to say how much you should pay. Because the main factor is to keep the team,” he told Forbes.
The high price gave him an advantage over other suitors looking to buy the club from former owner Leslie Alexander, Fertitta said. “While they were trying to figure out how much to pay for it, much less how to do it, I just came in and did it,” he says.
Fertitta is a Houston native, and he tried to buy the Houston Rockets back in 1993, but lost out to Alexander. Fertitta says he “pretended to buy a lot of teams,” but the Houston Rockets were in his heart.
Alexander’s decision to sell the club, which came to light in July, came as a surprise. “Leslie woke up one morning and said: “I’m selling the team,” Fertitta says. After that, he offered $2.2 billion. That was enough to seal the deal. Fertitta’s fortune is now estimated at $3.5 billion, but he didn’t have the necessary amount in cash and had to borrow.
Although the purchase price was high, Fertitta is not worried about recouping his investment. “I’m not buying it to sell it in five or ten years. It’s a generation of assets that will stay in my family,” he says. But in the short term, the businessman hopes to save money through branding and operational interaction with his other businesses. “I own five casinos, 600 restaurants, hotels and amusement parks. I think there will be different ways to promote our companies,” he explained.
Tilman Fertitta owns Golden Nugget Casino, a restaurant in Texas, and Landry’s, a Texas-based entertainment company that includes Landry’s Seafood, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and Houston’s Kemah Boardwalk. Fertitta is chairman and CEO of the company. In March 2016, he launched his own show on CNBC called Billion Dollar Buyer, which has already been renewed for a second season.
Fertitta learned about the restaurant business in Galveston, where he worked part-time at his father’s fish restaurant after high school. He was a partner in Landry’s first restaurant in 1980, and acquired a controlling interest in the company in 1986. Fertitta is a board member of the University of Houston Board of Governors. In August 2016, he donated $20 million to renovate its basketball arena.