Orlando City SC majority owner Flávio Augusto da Silva said he wasn’t necessarily looking for a minority investor for the club.
He said potential investors approached him for the opportunity to get involved with Orlando’s MLS franchise. From 2015, when the Lions joined MLS, Da Silva and the founders of Orlando City SC were comfortable building the club on their own.
“Since the beginning, we’ve been approached [by] many investors,” Da Silva told Pro Soccer USA. “Since the beginning, we decided to do it alone. We had enough capital. We had enough knowledge to put all of this together. Build a stadium, a new franchise, everything we have done since we started.”
That changed when 10 months ago, Da Silva was approached by Albert Friedberg, founder and president of Friedberg Mercantile Group Ltd., a Toronto-based investment firm.
The club on Wednesday announced Friedberg as a new minority owner. Da Silva sold Friedberg an 8.63 percent ownership stake in Orlando City SC. With the club valued at $490.53 million, according to Da Silva, the sale is worth about $42.3 million.
Friedberg, who lives in Toronto, and Da Silva were able to meet and talk in Orlando on a few occasions, including last season during Orlando City’s July 5 home match against Toronto FC.
“Mr. Friedberg caught our attention because he’s a very high-profile guy and his knowledge… we understood it was important for us to bring him to the team,” he said.
Da Silva said there are two goals the club’s new capital is going toward. The first is a bit more behind-the-scenes.
“We have been doing everything very fast,” he said, mentioning the privately-financed construction of Orlando City Stadium, as well as starting an NWSL franchise and acquiring a training center.
“This money is going to reinforce our financing structure. We have some finances, we’re going to restructure it right now in order to get much more healthy financially.”
The second will impact what fans see on the pitch at Orlando City Stadium.
“We also want to invest in the product,” he said. “We want to be stronger on the field. Probably, we’re going to think about new acquisitions as well.”
The money will not impact the future training facility at Lake Nona, which has a “different financing structure already in place,” Da Silva said.
“Our training center is part of our near-future projects,” he said. “I was [Wednesday] in a meeting about this. What we are discussing right now is some specific points for this project. It’s not related for the training center, specifically, this new money that’s coming.”
Da Silva remains the club’s majority owner, with a roughly 79 percent ownership stake, he said. The rest is split among the club’s founders and Friedberg’s 8.63 percent.
“We understood he had a different profile,” Da Silva said about Friedberg.
“He’s a very experienced investor. He’s a very professional investor. He has a very deep knowledge of financials. We understood that would be a good opportunity to get our ownership group stronger with his knowledge. This is the reason we opened the doors for him to come into Orlando City.”
Friedberg is the principal strategist of Friedberg Mercantile Group Ltd. and is the sole manager of two mutual funds that bear his name. In addition, he serves as chairman and president of the FCMI group of companies, his family holding entities, which are involved in a wide range of investments that include real estate, mining and forestry operations.
“I am delighted to be part of Orlando City SC, one of the best managed and most financially solid teams in MLS,” Friedberg said in a statement released by Orlando City SC.
“I am extremely gratified to have partnered with Flávio, whose vision and integrity are legendary, and with his very experienced team. Under their able direction, Orlando City SC will be certain to share in the explosive growth that I see ahead for soccer in the U.S.”
O’Melveny’s Sports Group represented Friedberg. Irwin Raij, who led the team representing Friedberg, called the process “smooth” and said Friedberg is “looking forward to working with Flávio and the leadership of the club as appropriate.”
“I think everyone’s happy,” he said.
Raij is also part of the ownership group for LAFC.
Da Silva’s valuation of the club doesn’t line up with Forbes annual MLS club valuations. The magazine valued Orlando City SC at $272 million – the fifth most valuable MLS club – last August, well short of the $490.53 million number Da Silva has in mind.
Speaking to Pro Soccer USA, Da Silva addressed that, too.
“Half a billion dollars, isn’t that too high?” he said. “I say no, it’s not too high. Your expectations [are] low. You haven’t realized soccer is already a big deal in this country.
“To start a new franchise, Nashville for example, or any other new franchise, [you] will spend no less than $450 million. To start. Without playing a single game. It’s very important. This deal is very important for the country to understand that soccer is already here and it’s big.”
Da Silva said the club isn’t looking for investors – the investors are coming to Orlando City SC. He said that fact Friedberg approached him is a recognition of the work the club has been doing.
“Of course, we’re always open to new talents and new people that can help us,” Da Silva said. “We are not closed to that. But definitely, we’re not looking.”