CVC and Blackstone in talks to invest in Italian football league

Private equity groups CVC Capital Partners and Blackstone are in separate talks about investments in Italy’s Serie A football league, which is facing a loss of revenue from the coronavirus pandemic

CVC is in talks to acquire a 20 per cent stake in Serie A for €2bn, valuing the League at €10bn, according to two people briefed on the discussions which began at the end of last year.

The move could give CVC, which has a long history of sports franchise deals including Formula One, MotoGP and England’s Premiership Rugby, a role in selling broadcasting rights for ten years from 2021, the people said.

However, one person with knowledge of the proposal said talks are at an early stage and there is a potential legal hurdle.

Blackstone is separately considering lending to clubs to help cover their costs during the shutdown of fixtures, according to people familiar with proposal. The talks are at an early stage and may not result in an agreement, they said. 

CVC, Blackstone and Serie A declined to comment. 

Europe’s top football leagues are seeking to plot their way out of a financial crisis caused by the pandemic, before which leading investors had shown a strong appetite for deals in the world’s most popular sport. 

The consultancy KPMG has estimated Serie A stands to lose between €550m and €650m in revenues related to broadcasting, sponsorship and ticketing if the season were to end with no further matches played.

Last season, Serie A teams shared €1.2bn in broadcasting revenues, €2bn less than clubs in England’s Premier League, the world’s most valuable domestic competition. 

The Italian league was also offered a partnership worth €1.15bn with Spanish TV production group Mediapro to create a new channel showing Italian top-tier matches between 2021-2024 last year. But the league has repeatedly delayed making a decision on the proposal.

Mediapro had initially won the exclusive domestic rights to screen Serie A in 2018 but forfeited the tender after it could not provide financial guarantees to the league in time. This led to Serie A reopening its tender, with pay TV broadcaster Sky and internet streaming service DAZN gaining the rights to screen matches in Italy until 2021. 

Tensions came to a head between the Serie A and Sky and DAZN as both broadcasters asked the Italian league for a discount on this year’s screening rights since matches have been suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.

CVC has been in a series of talks designed to reshape global rugby, with a deal to take a £120m stake in Pro14, an annual club tournament between sides in Ireland, Italy, Scotland, Wales and South Africa in its final stages, according to people with direct knowledge of the deliberations.

But a proposed £300m deal to invest in the Six Nations, Europe’s leading rugby tournament, has been delayed as the sport wrestles with a financial crisis caused by the suspension of fixtures.

However, CVC has shown an interest in acquiring football assets too. Last year, it held talks with Fifa and Spain’s Real Madrid over funding new global football competitions, but subsequently dropped interest in those projects. 

Serie A is among the big European leagues, including the Premier League and Spain’s La Liga, that has begun tentative talks to resume their domestic seasons when their respective governments ease lockdown measures.

Germany’s Bundesliga has set out plans to restart matches in May, though without spectators present. The move is being closely watched by other sports worldwide, providing a potential blueprint of how to return to play once lockdowns are eased. 

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