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Nice pass: PE firm cashes in on Harlem Globetrotters

Sunday, 6 Oct 2013 | 11:00 AM ET
Ben Gabbe | Getty Images

The Harlem Globetrotters are known for embarrassing their hapless opponent, the Washington Generals, with their trick passes. Now the basketball team itself is being deftly handed off.

Los Angeles-based private equity firm Shamrock Capital Advisors announced this past week that it had sold parent company Harlem Globetrotters International to Herschend Family Entertainment Corp. Herschend owns and runs 26 entertainment sites, including Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and Stone Mountain Park in Georgia.

Shamrock, a more-than-$700 million investment firm focused on media, entertainment and communications, bought 80 percent of the Globetrotters in 2005 for $70 million from former player Mannie Jackson, who retained 20 percent ownership, according to The Arizona Republic.

The exact price Herschend paid wasn't disclosed, but a person familiar with the situation said it was between $70 million and $100 million and was profitable for Shamrock. Herschend now owns 100 percent of the business.

"Over the past few years, the Globetrotters have set records across virtually every metric, including revenue, attendance and profitability," Shamrock partner Michael LaSalle told CNBC.com. "After eight years it was time to find the right partner to continue the momentum. We felt Herschend was the right steward."

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The Globetrotters do more than 400 live events annually, reaching about 3 million fans in more than 30 countries, according to a press release about the sale.

"We couldn't be more pleased to join the HFE family. The Globetrotters enjoy a huge global popularity that spans all continents, and our brand is hotter than ever. Under HFE's ownership, we are looking forward to building upon this domestic and international success," Globetrotters CEO Kurt Schneider said in a statement. "We also see opportunities to cross-market between the Harlem Globetrotters' popular tour and players and HFE's family attractions, allowing both companies to reach even more fans."

The Globetrotters were organized and coached by Abe Saperstein in 1926 as the Savoy Big Five, a reference to a ballroom in Chicago where they played. In 1929, the team name was changed to the Harlem New York Globe Trotters, a nod to the Manhattan neighborhood's reputation as a mecca for black culture—even if the team had no direct connection to the area. The team is now based in Phoenix.

Famous basketball players to don a red, white and blue Globetrotter uniform include "Clown Prince" Meadowlark Lemon and former NBA stars Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Wilt "The Stilt" Chamberlain and Connie "The Hawk" Hawkins. The current lineup includes Kevin "Special K" Daley, Nathaniel "Big Easy" Lofton and Derick "Dizzy" Grant.

(Read more: In Titus, Globetrotters Might Have Secret Weapon)

—By CNBC's Lawrence Delevingne. Follow him on Twitter @ldelevingne.

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