Toronto Raptors v New York Knicks
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Professional sports is an serious business in terms of economics. Sports teams are expensive, but nearly all of them are either in private hands or shared among a very limited number of devotees/investors. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that the arena is closed to small players. A few sports-related stocks actively trade on various exchanges.

Not a Slam Dunk

The most notable publicly traded sports entity that came to market in the recent past is the Boston Celtics. In 1986, the owners of the then-successful team decided to take a minority stake of their asset public as a limited partnership. After listing at an initial public offering price of $18.50 apiece, though, the partnership's units eventually slid to $11.35. The majority stake was sold in 2002, and the new owners bought out the remainder of the partnership soon thereafter.

Clearly not discouraged by that underperformance, several other teams also flirted with public ownership. Hockey's Florida Panthers, at the time controlled by Waste Management (WM) and AutoNation (AN) founder H. Wayne Huizenga, listed on the Nasdaq in 1996. As with the Celtics, the Panthers' publicly traded era only lasted until the bulk of the team was sold in 2001.

Baseball's Cleveland Indians had a stock market tenure shorter than an overmatched rookie's call-up to the majors. After its IPO on the Nasdaq during the 1998 season, the team's stock traded for slightly over a year before the Indians were bought out by a new owner, and the stock was sent to delisting heaven. In their brief life, the shares grossly underperformed the Nasdaq Composite Index.

Second Shot on Goal

Arguably the most popular soccer club on the planet, Manchester United (MANU) has been a publicly traded stock twice.

The first time was 1991, when it had an IPO on the London Stock Exchange. Years later, American businessman Malcolm Glazer began snapping up those shares in a successful bid to gain control of the team. After accumulating a majority stake in 2005, he delisted the stock.

Glazer relaunched the team on the market in 2012, this time on the New York Stock Exchange. This issue saw class A shares hit the market at $14 apiece, significantly downfield from the anticipated $16 to $20 range.

Since then, the stock has peaked at just over $19. That performance doesn't come close to the actual team's many triumphs on the pitch, so Manchester United stock is probably better as a souvenir than as an investment vehicle with serious upside potential.

Garden Party

Perhaps a better bet on the sports market is Madison Square Garden (MSG). Named for the iconic Manhattan venue (which it owns), the company basically functions as a basket of professional teams (including the NBA's New York Knicks and the NHL's New York Rangers) and associated properties.

The company's grew both its top and bottom lines on an annual basis over the past few years, but lately its stock price has taken a hit due to downgrades in some analyst projections for its earnings. Still, for sports nuts (especially those who go crazy for New York teams), it's a convenient way to own a piece of the franchises.

Occasionally, Madison Square Garden hosts a big event from World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). It's debatable whether the company's scripted "sports entertainment" truly belongs in the realm of pure athletics. Nevertheless, WWE is the only publicly traded pro wrestling purveyor on the market, and is far and away the leading company in its field.

Like MSG, though, its shares have gone through a rough patch lately, influenced in no small part by the company's most recent, loss-making quarter.

Game On?

As far as ownership is concerned, professional sports is a wealthy person's game. It has to be, given the stratospheric salaries of the talent and the high costs of simply operating a team (or roster of wrestlers, in WWE's case). But at least dedicated fans can own small pieces of certain athletic enterprises -- as long as they're not expecting huge returns from those assets.

(And, in case you're wondering why we didn't mention the ever-popular stock offerings of the Green Bay Packers, calling those shares an investment would be stretching the meaning of the word too far. There's a reason the Wall Street Journal posed the question, "Are the Green Bay Packers the Worst Stock in America?")

Motley Fool contributor Eric Volkman owns shares of World Wrestling Entertainment. The Motley Fool recommends Waste Management, and owns shares of Madison Square Garden and Waste Management.

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