Friday, December 8, 2006

The Get Untracked Sports Fan Index

College bowl season and all its crazy sponsorships got me thinking about the interaction between sports and the larger business world. Major league baseball stadiums now resemble their minor league counterparts with all that advertising, and as Peter King wrote a couple weeks back: "The NFL on TV is one giant commercial interrupted by football."

Companies wouldn't be willing to pay so much for advertising to sports fans - $2.5 million for a Super Bowl XLI ad, for example - unless they expected a positive return on that investment. Because we as sports fans are contributing so nicely to corporations' bottom lines, why shouldn't we also reap some of the rewards? Readers of Get Untracked are emotionally invested in the sports world. Here's a way to become financially invested as well: The Get Untracked Sports Fan Index.

Below are the ten publicly traded companies that will constitute the initial Index. I will invest a virtual $1,000 in each and provide periodic updates, using the Powershares Dynamic Leisure and Entertainment exchange-traded fund (PEJ) as a benchmark. (In reality, I own no shares in any company in the GUSFI.)

Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc. (BUD, $48)
Sports fans drink beer. Lots of beer. And nobody sells more of it in the U.S. than Budweiser. They've just installed August A. Busch IV as CEO. Some see it as typical corporate nepotism. Instead I see that the guy is only 42, and that he oversaw the original Bud frogs, Whassup, and "I love you, man" ad campaigns. He is better situated to understand today's beer buyer than the 64-year-old he's replacing. Bud is practically a value stock (18.2 price-to earnings ratio) compared to the rest of the beverage industry (19.71 P/E) and the food and beverage sector as a whole (18.98).

Sodexho Alliance (SDX, $60)
This French company is actually the number one service provider at college stadiums and arenas in the U.S. So when you're buying an eight-dollar bottle of water at the Rose Bowl, chances are Sodexho's Sports and Entertainment division gets most of the profit. They've just increased their dividend by 27%, a strong sign of growth going forward.

Pepsico, Inc. (PEP, $63)
The "-co" at the end of Pepsi's name should remind you that Pepsi is more than the signature colas and Mountain Dew. Their other major brands include Frito-Lay chips and sports drink leader Gatorade. Pepsi received antitrust clearance yesterday to purchase the Naked Juice Company, which will dovetail nicely with Pepsi's Tropicana division.

Time Warner, Inc. (TWX, $21)
The next two picks should be considered sports fans' "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" selections. Time Warner owns cable monopolies across the country, and recently purchased (with Comcast Corp.) the assets of bankrupt cable operator Adelphia Communications. Beyond the cable and ISP businesses, Time Warner owns AOL, HBO, New Line Cinema and TBS, among other holdings. We're six years past the AOL-Time Warner merger, enough time for this company to become a sleeper despite its status as a massive media conglomerate.

Walt Disney Company (DIS, $34)
There's nobody better at exposing the men behind the curtain at The Worldwide Leader than the Royal We, but even Master Leitch would admit that his "To Watch Tonight" segment features ESPN links more often than not. Sure, the cellphone service idea was a flop, but it proves they're thinking outside the box. Disney was out in front with putting shows like "Desperate Housewives" up on the internet, and its purchase of Pixar demonstrates a commitment to maintaining its technological advantage.

Best Buy Co., Inc. (BBY, 53)
Expect consumers' adoption of HDTV to accelerate in 2007, as the cost of 40-inch flat panels fall below $1,000. The next few years should also see a transition from standard DVD's to their high-definition counterparts. Best Buy, the nation's largest consumer electronics retailer, stands poised to benefit from both trends. Best Buy will also open its first store in China this month, where it will uniquely provide the kind of one-stop shop for home appliances and digital products like cellphones and mp3 players, which in China are usually not sold by the same store.

Dover Saddlery Inc. (DOVR, $9)
What, the Barbaro craze hasn't convinced you there's a huge market for equine products? By failing to get this post up last night, I missed out on today's nine percent run-up in the stock. Still, Americans have never had more leisure time or more money to put into high-end hobbies like riding horses. Founded by members of the U.S. Equestrian team, Dover is the largest direct marketer of such products.

International Game Technology (IGT, $45)
National news in the gaming industry has focused on the Bush administration's ill-conceived ban on internet gambling. State legislatures, however, keep authorizing Indian groups to build casinos, either on their own land or as part of horse racing tracks. The casinos will stock their slot rooms with machines from this designer and manufacturer of gaming machines. Established casinos continue to replace old spinning reel slot machines with network-connected video models, a market in which IGT is a worldwide leader.

K-Swiss Inc. (KSWS, $32)
Nike and Adidas, of course, are the most well-known athletic footwear brands. Each recently completed acquisitions, with Nike purchasing Converse and Adidas buying Reebok. K-Swiss remains independent and solidly profitable. About to launch a new clothing line throughout Europe, they could be about to break out of the shadows.

Under Armour, Inc. (UARM, $51)
Synthetic microfiber performance products were not on the sports radar five years ago; now Under Armour is a $300 million business. But they don't just sell tight-fitting muscle shirts. You've seen their "click-clack" ads for football cleats, but now they're expanding into hunting apparel and the ski market. By looking for opportunities that the big boys at Nike ignored, Under Armour will continue to grow in leaps and bounds.

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