Veteran sports executive Shawn Tilger has been appointed the first president of the newly renamed GF Sports & Entertainment, as equity firm GF Capital expands its scope of business in live entertainment.
Tilger has equity in GF Sports & Entertainment and will serve on the firm’s board of directors. He most recently served as senior adviser to GF Sports, as the firm was formerly known.
GF Capital’s principals are Gary Fuhrman, chairman and CEO; Erik Baker and Neil Shapiro, both co-founders and managing directors; and co-investor Hank Ratner, former president and CEO of Madison Square Garden.
The rebranded company, under GF Capital’s auspices, will focus on acquiring and investing in sports, media and entertainment properties with the intent to grow some of those entities into national tours of arenas and stadiums.
For more than 20 years, Tilger was employed by Comcast Spectacor, where he became executive vice president and chief operating officer for the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers before leaving the organization in April 2019. He started consulting with GF Sports, a division of GF Capital formed in 2015.
Under the new name, GF Sports & Entertainment owns the New York Open and the Truist Atlanta Open, tennis events that are among the ATP World Tour’s longest-running tournaments, and the National Lacrosse League New York Riptides.
In January, the firm formed a joint venture with the American Kennel Club to take AKC Meet the Breeds on tour. GF Sports & Entertainment also has a stake in Wolfpack Ninjas, a touring event featuring competitors, some from the television show “American Ninja Warrior,” running through an obstacle course to spread the message for kids to stay fit and avoid child obesity.
Tilger committed to his new role after getting to know GF Capital’s principals and learning more about their success and vision to build upon its current platform. He said they had a track record of finding the right properties and helping them grow and scale across the industry.
“My background as an operator and their background in mergers and acquisitions made total sense,” Tilger said.
The timing made sense as well during the global pandemic, according to Tilger.
Venues, teams and leagues are all faced with the challenge of retrofitting their business for the post-COVID world, which will create a massive shift in the financial models, Tilger said. Venue access, traffic flow, testing for coronavirus and higher standards of health, safety and sanitation are critical issues that the industry will try to resolve before a vaccine is on the market.
The key is to be nimble, considering there remains so much uncertainty in live entertainment, he said. The year 2022 and beyond is where the industry’s focus should be for redefining the business.
“It’s going to be a lot easier to build a new model than retrofit the existing models,” he said. “2021 is going to be a big transition year. If anybody is trying to make long-range plans right now, they’re throwing darts. You’re better off having short-term adjustments, making sure you’re investing in talented people and finding properties that have adaptable fan experiences.”
The deep relationships that all GF partners have formed over the years should help grow business.
“We’re one phone call away from the big investment bankers and governors of the pro leagues,” Tilger said. “It’s a perfect match, and we’re excited to be growing when most organizations are worried about contracting. The biggest message is we’re open for business.”