Conn. Firm With Ties To Pro Sports Holds $147M First Close: Source

Gridiron Capital, a firm that applies lessons from sports to private equity investing, recently held a first close on its second fund at $147 million, a source familiar with the fundraising effort told Buyouts.

The firm is seeking $400 million for the fund, Gridiron Capital Fund II LP, although it will raise as much as $500 million if there is enough demand, the source said.

The New Canaan, Conn.-based firm seeks to invest in companies generating EBITDA of $5 million to $25 million, typically writing an equity check for between $20 million and $75 million. In particular, it likes franchises, companies competing in industries experiencing fundamental change, family-owned companies, and corporate divestitures.

Gridiron Capital’s portfolio includes Executive Cabinetry, a Simpsonville, S.C.-based manufacturer of kitchen and bathroom cabinetry; and McKenzie Sports Products Inc., a Granite Quarry, N.C.-based designer and manufacturer of taxidermy forms and supplies used to mount animals and fish killed by hunters and fishermen.

The firm started raising the fund in January and its executives are hoping to wrap fundraising by the fall. NovaFund Advisors, a placement agency based in Darien, Conn., is helping to raise the fund.

Thomas Burger, a former managing director for buyout shop RFE Investment Partners; Donald Cihak, a former operating partner at Saunders Karp & Megrue, and Eugene Conese, a former president of Greenwich Air Services Inc., co-founded Gridiron Capital in 2005.

Burger and Managing Director Timothy Clark, who joined the firm in 2006, have sports backgrounds, Clark having played baseball for the Cincinnati Reds while Burger played football at Duke University. “At Gridiron Capital, our name means everything — we believe in basic blocking and tackling, team work, a common goal, executing a plan and winning in the trenches every day,” Burger is quoted on the firm’s Web site.