Sinclair Selling Stations to Fox in Bid to Get Tribune Approval

(Bloomberg) -- Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. said it will sell seven TV stations to Fox Broadcasting Co. in a move to win regulators’ approval of its proposed merger with Tribune Media Co.

The seven stations being sold, in markets such as Miami and Seattle, are part of a batch of 23 stations identified for sale last month by the Maryland-based broadcaster, which needs approval from the Federal Communications Commission and Justice Department antitrust authorities to complete the $3.9 billion purchase it proposed in May 2017.

The Justice Department is “wrapping up” its vetting of station buyers, and Sinclair wants to move on to FCC approval “very shortly,” Chief Executive Officer Chris Ripley told investors. Ripley said he expects a 30-day comment period from the FCC.

“Now that we have completed Fox, we are going to back in front of the FCC,” Ripley said. He said that would trigger a 30-day review period.

Sinclair rose 9.5 percent to $29.90 at $10.05 a.m. New York time.

New York station WPIX doesn’t appear on Sinclair’s sales list. Flagship station WGN in Chicago would go to a business associate of a top Sinclair executive, while other outlets would be sold to a company controlled by the estate of the executive’s mother. Howard Stirk Holdings, owned by conservative commentator Armstrong Williams, would buy some stations, as would New York-based hedge fund Standard General LP led by Soo Kim. In addition, Meredith Corp. would buy one station.

With the Tribune transaction and related divestitures Sinclair would grow to 215 television stations in 102 markets. The Maryland-based broadcaster is known for its conservative leanings, including commentaries by Boris Epshteyn, a former aide to President Donald Trump.

As proposed in May, the deal would have extended Sinclair’s reach to more than 70 percent of U.S. homes, exceeding the national limit of 39 percent. Sinclair says its proposed divestitures would bring it into compliance with the national cap. That calculation assumes it can count the audience at some stations on a discounted basis, a procedure approved by the FCC but under legal attack.

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