Q&A: Eli Manning’s next play

The two-time Super Bowl winner speaks to Private Equity International about his new career in private markets.

Eli Manning spent 16 years as quarterback with the New York Giants, winning two Super Bowls. Now, he is embarking on his next chapter: joining private equity firm Brand Velocity Partners as a partner.

BVP is a consumer-focused, deal-by-deal investor. Headed by managing partner Steve Lebowitz, previously managing partner at Topspin Partners, it aims to drive returns through improving businesses’ marketing capabilities. Manning first got involved with the firm when he invested in portfolio company BBQGuys, a retailer from his home state of Louisiana.

When you were playing, at what point did you think, ‘I’d better start thinking about what comes next?’

Eli Manning
Eli Manning. Source: All-Pro Reels

I was always interested in business – I just knew I did not have the time to commit. With football, with playing quarterback, you have such a short window, and if you don’t play well, it can end quickly. I remember having conversations with other teammates and they were [saying], “Hey, I’m preparing for life after football, I’m doing some investing…” And I just got to say, “Well, you might be doing that full time if you don’t start blocking. You dial in and focus on football here!”

But after I retired, I knew I wanted to take a year to venture out [and] learn about different types of business that I might want to jump into.

What are the main skills you bring to private equity from football?

Obviously, there’s a lot of room to grow in just understanding the numbers. I don’t know if that will ever be my strength, but I need to have a base there and know what makes a company interesting or what are the red flags. I think my strengths are looking at the leadership of companies, looking at the culture around them and trying to understand how to build it.

When you win a championship, it’s not just the players and the owners that get a Super Bowl ring – it is the people in the equipment room, the trainers, people in the film room. And that’s the attitude, I believe, that you want with a company. You want everybody to be excited and committed to success. The fact that BVP shares the gains [portfolio company staff receive 10 percent of carried interest] – that makes an impact.

There’s a clear trend of private equity firms investing in sports teams. What do you think of it?

You see it in other sports. It’s not hit the NFL yet. The overall valuation of these companies gets so high, it’s hard for one person to write a cheque for several billion dollars. They might be in a position where they want to build a new practice facility, maybe buy land around the stadium, or build better parking or better restaurants. So, they’re looking at ways to give away a little equity and to get money spent on that, hopefully building the valuation even higher and making it a better product.

How does it feel watching Tom Brady still run around the field while you’re in a nice, warm office?

I’m jealous. It’s such an awesome time when you’re playing and everybody else isn’t [the playoffs were underway at the time of writing] and you’ve got a chance to compete for championships. But it’s the training camps, it’s the grind, the hits and the injuries and everything else that makes it tough, which makes it all more impressive that he’s still doing this and playing at such a high level.