From the ground up, U.S. Bank has built a top sports finance business led by Bill Mulvihill

September 23, 2020 | GET MORE : Future of Banking

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The bank has grown into one of the largest financial partners to sports teams and leagues over the past decade

Bill Mulvihill loves sports. 

So now that the NFL and all major sports leagues are back in action after halting due to COVID-19, you will often find him and his family gathered in their basement theater room, watching sports on five different TVs at once.

Given his passion, it makes perfect sense that Mulvihill is managing director and head of the Sports and Entertainment Group at U.S. Bank. But even though he lives and breathes sports, and working in the sports business runs in his family, he never planned on a career in it. 

As a child, Mulvihill ran around on the fields and went to every game he could at the University of Cincinnati, where his father worked in the athletic department for nearly 30 years. In high school, he played basketball and baseball. But when it came time to choose a major at the University of Cincinnati, he chose mechanical engineering. Upon graduation, however, he realized his passion was elsewhere and decided to pursue an MBA in finance. 

He was in the midst of interviewing for jobs on Wall Street when 9/11 happened, and those jobs became few and far between. Then he got a call from a friend who worked on Capitol Hill about a job at the House Committee on Ways and Means. “I interviewed on a Wednesday and moved to D.C. the following Monday,” he said. 

Although Mulvihill enjoyed working on tax and economic policies, he still felt a calling to finance. He worked at an investment bank in Chicago for a few years before moving back to Cincinnati in 2007. That’s also the year he joined U.S. Bank’s sports finance team, which at the time had just a handful of clients. 

Shortly after Mulvihill started, the 2008 financial crisis hit. Many banks were struggling to support sports teams and leagues while facing their own financial issues. U.S. Bank, which remained financially sound throughout the crisis, saw it as an opportunity to build new client relationships and deepen existing ones – launching the group into an industry-leading position. 

Today, U.S. Bank has relationships with 40 clients from the five largest U.S. sports leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and MLS) and expanded the Sports and Entertainment Group by bringing on industry expert Steve Vogel in 2012. Mulvihill and Vogel work closely with teams and leagues to provide capital for franchise acquisitions, general league needs, and new stadiums and arenas. Last year, U.S. Bank was No. 1 in the sports league tables, which measures closed deals. 

“In order to help clients, it’s important to understand the economic model of a team,” Mulvihill said. “Some teams choose to break even. They reinvest everything they make to field a winning team. In a normal underwriting model, a break-even team may not look like a strong candidate. But when you understand the team’s earning potential, you can help support its goals. If you don’t have the industry knowledge, or the internal support we have at U.S. Bank, you could have a very hard time breaking through in the space.”

Sports leagues and teams are also unique because they are prepared for shutdowns or a missed season due to a players’ strike or work stoppage. So when the pandemic hit earlier this year, they executed those playbooks.

The duration of the pandemic, however, has been greater than many initially thought. 

“We thought it would be a pause on playing for a few weeks, then play would restart quickly,” Mulvihill said. “But now teams and leagues are starting to realize that the impact will carry into next year.” 

With no fans in the stands, fewer games to play or delayed seasons, many teams will lose money this year. Owners, however, realize that it’s important for the long-term health of the game to keep playing, even if it results in losses.  

“Sports are an important part of society, and they play a vital role in bringing families and communities together,” Mulvihill said. “Teams and leagues feel it’s their duty to bring this entertainment back, and we are proud to support them.”