Mediapro and hedge fund Elliott 'held talks over Serie A deal'
Elliott Management Corporation, the US hedge fund, has been in negotiations with Mediapro, the Spanish sports rights agency, about supporting the latter’s investment in Italian Serie A soccer, it has been reported.
Officials from New York-based Elliott, which is headed up billionaire Paul Singer, have met Mediapro president and co-founder Jaume Roures twice in Milan this month, according to Bloomberg.
Sources indicated that the fund could eventually provide financing, although the discussions are preliminary and may not lead to a deal.
In February, Mediapro secured an agreement with Serie A to distribute broadcasting rights in Italy for the next three seasons, offering just €1,000 ($1,178) above the annual reserve price of €1.05 billion.
However, an invitation to tender it has launched since has been annulled by an Italian court on the grounds that it breaches antitrust violations, a ruling Mediapro is appealing against. In addition, the Serie A clubs were meeting at an assembly this afternoon to discuss the future broadcast arrangements amid some uncertainty over the Mediapro deal.
In particular, the clubs were to decide on a response to Mediapro’s pledge of €186 million in cash as an interim guarantee, rather than a full bank guarantee for the €1.05 billion (plus VAT), which was due to be submitted on Tuesday.
Mediapro's offer reflected the fact that the sale of a 53.5-per-cent stake in its parent company Imagina to Orient Hontai Capital, the Chinese private equity firm, is still awaiting approval from the authorities in its home country.
Elliott already wields considerable influence in the Italian media and telecoms industry, as the second-largest shareholder in Telecom Italia, and wrested control of the company’s board from main shareholder Vivendi, the French media group, only last month.
Telecom Italia, which is looking to revamp its business to attract new customers, could yet play a role in the Serie A saga if it reaches a deal with a rights-holder to show matches via its broadband network.
Last year, it was reported that Elliott agreed to provide €303 million of financing when former Italian prime minister and media magnate Silvio Berlusconi sold prominent Serie A club AC Milan to Chinese investors.
The agreement between Mediapro and Lega Serie A was approved by Italy’s antitrust watchdog, but only on condition that the agency acts as a broker, selling the rights to other broadcasters.
Mediapro launched a tender early in April, but it was suspended following a legal challenge by Sky Italia, the Italian pay-TV broadcaster that has been showing Serie A until now, and took issue with the validity of the agency’s deal.
Earlier this month, the Court of Milan ordered a new call for applications on the grounds that the packages drawn up “would put Mediapro in a monopoly position, inhibiting the freedom of other operators and forcing them to pay more for television services.”
The ruling was blow to Serie A and its clubs, especially as the 2018-19 season is due to kick off in just three months’ time, and potentially revived the prospect of an in-house league channel, which could be made available to multiple media platforms.
Mediapro previously held off launching the invitation to tender in order to evaluate the impact of a content-sharing alliance between Sky Italia and its rival Mediaset Premium, which has also been broadcasting Serie A games.
Sky has been paying €572 million per season for rights to all 380 Serie A matches per season, while Mediaset Premium has been shelling out €373 million for 248 matches following sub-licensing deals between the pair.
Infront’s six-year, €5.94-billion minimum guarantee agreement with Lega Serie A to operate as its exclusive adviser on both domestic and international rights media rights sales runs until the end of the 2020-21 season.