Cal Ripken Taps Wall Street to Reboot Youth Sports

(Bloomberg) -- Like just about every baseball star, Cal Ripken, Jr. had a role model. Before his career with the Baltimore Orioles and his record games-played streak, the legend took inspiration from his old man.

These days, sitting in the stands of a youth baseball stadium named for Cal Ripken, Sr., he explains how his massive ambition for youth sports is just a continuation of what he and his brother (and current business partner) Bill Ripken learned from their father. Back in the day, their dad put on small clinics during the off-season and brought his boys along. Now, on the first episode of a new season of the Bloomberg Originals series Power Players, Ripken explains how he is leveraging that experience—along with the power of Wall Street—to remake how American kids play sports.

“Dad communicated through kids, through baseball,” Cal Ripken says. “He was a great teacher, but he kind of talked about life through baseball. And so Billy and I wanted to extend that from a content and teaching standpoint. You build the model first and then you could duplicate it some other place to help more kids.”

What the Ripken brothers have, in addition to their own earnings from their playing days and endorsements, is access to a whole lot of money. After quietly and carefully building Ripken Baseball, their string of camps and clinics is now part of Unrivaled Sports, a fast-growing youth sports empire created by David Blitzer and Josh Harris.

During the past dozen years, Blitzer and Harris arguably became the most successful and influential investors to transition from private equity to sports investing. Together and separately, they own franchises in the National Football League (Washington Commanders), the National Basketball Association (Philadelphia 76ers), the National Hockey League (New Jersey Devils), Major League Baseball (Cleveland Guardians), Major League Soccer (Real Salt Lake) and the National Women’s Soccer League (Utah Royals), as well as other sports-related start-up concerns.

When Cal and Bill did the deal with Blitzer and Harris in 2023, they could’ve sold out. Instead, they leaned in, expanding beyond so-called diamond sports into games played on rectangles and beyond, including a winter sports offering led by snowboard legend Shaun White, another Unrivaled partner. Along the way, they’ve won more institutional investments, including from TCG, the investment firm created by long-time media executive Peter Chernin.

“I felt that the growth could be accelerated,” Ripken Jr. says of youth sports. “I wanted to be able to move at different parts of the country and expand on the good work that we were doing.”

The principals all say they’re intent on using the increased cash flow not just to reap bigger profits, but to make the games more accessible—not just the purview of kids with wealthy parents willing to pay thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in pursuit of preteen glory (let alone ever-elusive athletic scholarships). To Cal, that means building facilities in lower-income neighborhoods, providing financial assistance—and simply getting lots of kids to play.

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