Italy's Serie A picks CVC's group for exclusive talks on media unit

MILAN (Reuters) - Italy’s Serie A soccer clubs have agreed to enter exclusive talks with a private equity fund consortium including CVC for the sale of a stake in the league’s new media business, officials from the top flight league said on Tuesday.

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The decision paves the way for a potential 1.65 billion euro ($1.94 billion) deal that would bring outside investors into one of the game’s biggest leagues.

CVC, which has long experience in sports investment, teamed up with Advent and state-backed Italian fund FSI, defeating a rival bid from a consortium led by Bain Capital.

Fifteen of the 20 clubs voted in favour of CVC’s bid, according to sources attending a closed door meeting in Milan.

Torino FC president Urbano Cairo said the preferred bidder had offered up to 1.65 billion euros for a 10% stake in the newly created unit handling broadcasting rights for Serie A matches but details of the deal still had to be finalised.

Under a plan promoted by Serie A’s president Paolo Dal Pino, private equity investors are expected to help the league develop its broadcast business.

A deal would help Serie A weather the coronavirus crisis, which has forced matches to be played in near-empty stadiums and prompted broadcasters to seek to cut spending on Pay-TV deals.

Many club presidents, including Andrea Agnelli from champions Juventus, see the plan, dubbed “Project Goal” as a way to improve governance, as private equity investors would have a decisive role in steering the league’s media business strategy.

“Sometimes separating the ownership from the management of a business is a good choice, and this is certainly the case”, Cairo said.

After investing for over a decade in Formula One motor racing, CVC bought a minority stake in England’s Premiership Rugby in 2019 and backed sports investment company Bruin Sports Capital.

More than half of 2.5-billion-euro Serie A’s annual revenues come from broadcasting, but the league lags the financial heavyweights of England’s Premier League, La Liga in Spain and the German Bundesliga.

The Italian league raised 1.35 billion euros per season from media rights sales under a deal expiring next year, against 3.5 billion euros raised by the Premier League.

Serie A is due to sell rights to screen its matches for the next three seasons soon but with the pandemic clouding market outlook, private equity funds could provide a financial backstop to withstand any big shortfall, sources have said.

Reporting by Elvira Pollina and Elisa Anzolin, additional reporting by Clara Denina and Pamela Barbaglia, editing by Giulia Segreti, Keith Weir and Emelia Sithole-Matarise