Magazine article American Banker

Sports Finance Business Not Just Fun and Games

Magazine article American Banker

Sports Finance Business Not Just Fun and Games

Article excerpt

Sports financing sounds glamorous.

It brings to mind images of bankers lounging in luxury boxes, smoking Cuban cigars with team owners. Or executives picking over a buffet table in the company of superstar professional athletes.

But George L. Cole, a sports lending specialist at Charlotte, N.C.-based First Union Corp., deflates those images. "It's overrated," he said in a recent interview.

"Sure, maybe you get to sit in an owner's box a few times a year," he said, "but you can do that with other clients as well. I'll put it this way: I don't spend a lot of time in locker rooms."

Mr. Cole, 38, is director of First Union's media and communications finance division, which includes sports financing. He spends much of his time working with professional sports teams, handling their financing needs - a position many would envy.

And there may be more of these jobs at large banks in the near future. All the major professional sports leagues have been expanding in recent years, adding teams in new markets, and that puts a premium on the sort of expertise that Mr. Cole is developing.

But to the nine-year veteran of First Union, it's not the sports end of the work that is exciting.

"The fun part is that it's become a more entrepreneurial vehicle for the owners," he said, "and the opportunities to make money in this business continue to grow."

In the past, most professional teams were run as, in effect, "cultural icons" in their cities, with owners viewed as their caretakers. Today, sports organizations are much more bottom-line-oriented, Mr. …

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