Italy's Serie A to weigh private equity bids amid virus crisis - sources

MILAN (Reuters) - Italy’s top-flight soccer clubs have mandated Serie A to weigh private equity bids for its broadcast rights business as they look at ways to weather the financial storm triggered by the new coronavirus crisis, two sources close to the matter said.

The clubs’ top executives met on Tuesday after Serie A had received a series of bids from private equity investors interested in buying a stake in a new company holding the league’s broadcast rights.

Such business generates over half the revenues of Italy’s top clubs but there are growing challenges due to the economic slump related to the pandemic.

Serie A and CVC Capital Partners have been in exclusive talks for more than a month over a 2.2 billion euro ($2.5 billion) bid for a stake of up 20% in a venture managing the league’s media rights for 10 seasons.

So far negotiations have been fruitless.

In the meantime, other private equity investors, including Bain Capital and Advent, have joined the race with rival bids, sources have said.

“The clubs mandated Serie A’s President (Paolo) Dal Pino to continue exploring the feasibility of a deal, in a bid to get more definite proposals by end-July,” according to one source.

One of the sources said no financial adviser had been appointed yet, but the plan was to pick one soon.

“The idea is to have a financial partner on board to help Serie A boost its media business”, the source added.

Serie A restarted in June after a three-month stoppage due to the virus outbreak but media firms holding broadcast rights postponed or suspended payments, putting club finances under pressure.

Comcast Corp unit Sky, currently Serie A’s leading domestic rights holder, still owes the clubs a 130 million euro instalment relating to the 2019/2020 season. The sum is part of a three-year 2.3 billion euro contract expiring next year.

Serie A has rebuffed Sky’s request to renegotiate the agreement in the light of the coronavirus emergency.

Reporting by Elvira Pollina; Editing by Ken Ferris