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Italy’s MP & Silva sports rights agency seeks private equity buyer

by Andrea Fontana

Italian soccer rights agency MP & Silva is seeking a private equity investors, opening up a rare opportunity in this industry which has been the focus of a few recent high-profile deals.

In September, a formal sale procedure will be launched for a stake in the $700 million group specialized in the marketing of sports TV rights, in particular of Italy's Serie A soccer championship abroad.

The sale, according to a report by the Radiocor Il Sole 24 Ore newswire, will involve a minority stake in the parent holding. UBS will serve as advisor.

The deal being looked at by private equity funds concerns the ongoing reorganization of the group's ownership and in particular the two founders, Riccardo Silva e Andrea Radrizzani, who own a combined 89% in the Luxembourg-based MP & Silva Holding SA.

In early August, Radrizzani announced his decision to end his involvement in the management and ownership of the company, closing an experience started around 10 years ago, to focus on the launch of new sports channel under the brand Eleven Sports Network in Poland, Belgium, Singapore and Malaysia.

Part of his shares will be repurchased by Silva, who will become the controlling shareholder of the company, while the remaining shares, probably with other minorities owned by the management, will be part of the sale process expected to be in full swing in the autumn.

Private equity investors have shown interest in the sector. Few months ago, Bridgepoint sold to the Chinese group Dalian Wanda for around €1 billion a majority stake in Infront Sports&Media, the giant led by Philippe Blatter with revenues of over $900 million, after investing in 2011 in a deal that valued the company at €550 million.

At the end of 2013, another big sports marketing player, US-based Img Worldwide, was sold to a group of investors led by William Morris Endeavor and fund Silver Lake for $2.3 billion. The company had been purchased nearly 10 years before by Fortsmann Little for $750 million.

MP & Silva was founded in 2004, betting on the appeal of the Italian soccer championship for foreign TV viewers. Despite the expansion of the activity to include other sports in the following years, the Serie A remains one of the main assets in the portfolio and one of the main sources of revenues for the agency, which recently also upped the ante on the business to keep the TV rights.

Last autumn, after a heated debate among soccer clubs about the correct valuation of TV rights sold abroad, MP & Silva won the 2015-2018 TV rights auction by paying to Lega Calcio €557 million, 60% more than it paid in the previous three years.

In addition to Italian soccer, the company also sells the UK Premier League (in over 50 countries outside of the UK), France's Ligue 1, and the Formula One.

The business has benefited from Asia's growing interest for European sports: the Middle East, Asia and Japan account for around 40% of total revenues, a share similar to European markets.