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Blackstone exec: US soccer a 'place to make a lot of money'

Peter Cohen of Blackstone Advisory Partners.
Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Peter Cohen of Blackstone Advisory Partners.

A senior executive at Blackstone Group thinks big money investors can make piles of cash by betting on the growth of soccer in the U.S.

"The thing I'm sort of interested in is where soccer goes. It's a lower price point in terms of a point of entry at least for [Major League Soccer]," Peter Cohen, global head of the media and entertainment group at Blackstone Advisory Partners, said Thursday at the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit in New York City.

Cohen noted the rising popularity of soccer in America, including the success of the World Cup and NBC's broadcasting of English Premier League games.

"It that trend continues, I think that could be a really interesting place to make a lot of money going forward," Cohen said.

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The Blackstone exec noted that buying an MLS team was relatively affordable given the high valuations of other pro sports franchises.

"Sports is no longer a plaything for rich guys. It's a plaything for a really, really rich guy or gal," Cohen said. "That's because they are becoming really big businesses. They are becoming very sophisticated. It's not just about beer and hot dogs. It's about media rights, it's about real estate opportunities, it's about international expansion. There are a whole bunch of ways to monetize these teams that never before really existed."

He also noted that MLS games were relatively affordable.

"You can actually afford to go to a professional soccer game as opposed to going to a Yankee game or a Dodger game," Cohen said of taking a family to a New York Red Bulls or Los Angeles Galaxy match, for example.

Cohen was hopeful that the economics of playing soccer professionally would continue to improve.

"Everybody I think has kids who play soccer in the United States. That's what they're growing up with," he said. "But there's never really been an opportunity from a monetary perspective when you're 15 years old saying, 'Do I want to be a great soccer star or I'm a great athlete and I want to go play football?' ... Most kids go to one of the top four sports because that's where the money is."

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Cohen's bullish view on soccer was echoed by Joe Ravitch, co-founder of sports and media-focused merchant bank The Raine Group.

"That's the place to go," Ravitch said of investing in MLS versus other pro sports.

In 2013, Ravitch helped MLS sell rights to an expansion franchise in New York City for $100 million to Manchester City Football Club of the U.K. and the New York Yankees.

"That looks like nothing for the biggest market in the country. Someday the owners of that will be worth what the Yankees are worth ... and that's the one team in New York City," Ravitch said.

Others at the event were also optimistic about the prospects of soccer in the U.S.

"The sport is too important and too big in the United States not to build on this," Sunil Gulati, president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, said of the success of the World Cup in the U.S., during a separate conference panel discussion.

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—By CNBC's Lawrence Delevingne

Disclosure: CNBC is owned by NBCUniversal, which also is the parent company of NBC.

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