Private equity funds ready French soccer media rights bids –sources

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PARIS, Dec 9 (Reuters) - Buyout funds including CVC Capital Partners and Bain Capital are lining up preliminary bids for a stake worth some 1.5 billion euros ($1.7 billion) in the French football league's media rights business, four sources told Reuters.

Advent, Apollo, Bridgepoint, EQT (EQTAB.ST), KKR (KKR.N) and Silver Lake are also looking to submit offers for a stake of up to 20% in a new media rights company that the Ligue de Football Professionnel plans to set up, the sources added.

The Ligue, home to soccer stars such as PSG's Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, has asked bidders to submit non-binding offers by a deadline of Dec. 13, two of the sources, who all spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

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The French plan is the latest by a European league to attract private equity to shore up finances after clubs across the continent were knocked by empty stadiums or reduced capacity crowds during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A search for financial partners kicked off in November, with the Ligue's advisers, Centerview, Lazard (LAZ.N) and law firm Darrois, approaching some 30 potential investors.

The Ligue, CVC, Bain, KKR, Advent, EQT and Silver Lake declined to comment. Apollo was not immediately available to comment.

Beyond a much needed cash injection, the Ligue hopes that private equity firms could help make French soccer more attractive, and double or treble revenues in five to ten years.

A deal could also lead to a rebalancing of the way the money is split between the 40 clubs of Ligue 1 and Ligue 2, to the advantage of bigger clubs, the sources said. At present the two top clubs, Paris Saint Germain and Olympique Marseille, each get less than 10% of total media rights revenue.

FRENCH FANS

The French league is the smallest by revenue of Europe's "Big Five", which includes England, Spain, Germany and Italy.

Its plan, which values a minority stake in the Ligue's media rights business at about 1.5 billion euros, has won support from both the French government and the country's clubs, which agreed in principle to explore strategic options, the sources said.

However, separate plans by Italy's Serie A and Germany's Bundesliga to sell some media rights to private equity funds were scrapped earlier this year.

And in Spain, the two largest soccer clubs - Barcelona and Real Madrid - have taken legal action against LaLiga's TV rights deal with private equity fund CVC.

The French Ligue's auction is expected to wrap up by the start of the second quarter and a deal could be signed before the end of the season in May, the sources said.

French soccer suffered a blow last year after the collapse of Spanish media rights agency Mediapro, which was supposed to pay 1.2 billion euros a year to broadcast Ligue 1 matches.

Shareholders of the main clubs had to inject close to half a billion euros to make up for the shortfall, but they now face a collective funding hole of up to 800 million euros, Ligue boss Vincent Labrune said on Wednesday.

"We have no choice. Our long-term future depends on the next 18 months," he told a Senate hearing.

($1 = 0.8832 euros)

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Additional reporting by Emma-Victoria Farr; Writing by Silvia Aloisi; Editing by Alexander Smith

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