UPDATE 1-Italy soccer rights award may drive M&A in Europe's pay-TV market

Fri Jun 27, 2014 6:46am EDT

* Sky Italia, Mediaset win rights after auction beset by legal complaints

* Deal to create Sky Europe may be announced in next few weeks - analyst

* Mediaset partnership announcement with Al Jazeera seen imminent - analyst (Recasts lead, adds analysts, shares)

MILAN, June 27 (Reuters) - The award of broadcast rights for Italy's Serie A soccer league to Sky Italia and Mediaset is clarifying valuations for the two rivals and may trigger merger activity in Europe's pay-TV market.

Under Thursday's deal, Sky Italia - a unit of 21st Century Fox - and Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset will both have rights to air matches featuring the eight leading teams in Italy's top division over the next three seasons, a person familiar with the matter said.

Talks are under way to combine Sky Italia in a 10 billion euro ($13.6 billion) deal with media tycoon Rupert Murdoch's other European TV interests, BSkyB and Sky Deutschland

While the soccer rights auction does not have a direct bearing on those discussions, it could pave the way for a deal by helping to pin down the valuation of the Italian arm.

"With visibility on Serie A, we think BSkyB could formerly announce its plans on Sky Europe in the next few weeks," said a UBS analyst in a note.

People close to the situation said that deal talks were progressing and could bear fruit during the summer.

The Italian rights were initially due to be awarded in early June but legal challenges by rival suitors delayed the process.

The conclusion of the auction could also help Mediaset restructure its pay TV business, Mediaset Premium, in view of a possible stake sale to a partner, analysts said.

Italian news agency ANSA this week quoted a member of Qatar's royal family as saying Qatari-owned broadcaster Al Jazeera was looking at Mediaset's pay-TV business.

"Qatar has officially confirmed its interest in Mediaset, after years of speculation. We think a partnership announcement is imminent," analysts at Exane BNP Paribas said.

Mediaset shares rose 3.6 percent to 3.60 euros at 1037 GMT, outpacing a 0.1 percent fall in the Milan blue-chip index.

Sky Italia and Mediaset already had rights to Serie A soccer matches.

Under the new deal Mediaset will broadcast fewer games than currently and pay 100 million euros more. Sky Italia will pay roughly what is it paying at the moment but have exclusive rights to a larger number of matches.

The Italian soccer league had considered repeating the auction in view of the legal complaints.

But that was viewed as too risky for cash strapped soccer clubs facing financial problems and the grim state of the game, beset for years by match-fixing scandals and stadium violence.

($1 = 0.7359 Euros) (Reporting by Danilo Masoni, Elvira Pollina, Kate Holton and Anjuli Davies; Editing by John Stonestreet)

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