Sinclair Considers Tapping Private Equity to Buy Fox Sports Networks

(Bloomberg) -- Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., the largest owner of U.S. TV stations, would need to team up with a private equity firm to bid for all of the 22 regional sports networks that Walt Disney Co. is selling as part of its $71 billion Fox deal, according to its top executive.

Christopher Ripley, Sinclair’s chief executive officer, called the regional sports channels “a very interesting fit” and listed numerous potential cost savings. But he said the Fox sports networks put up for sale by Disney “are quite large” and that his company would need a partner to afford them all.

“If you’re doing the whole thing, you’d have to take on a private equity partner,” Ripley said Tuesday at an investor conference hosted by Deutsche Bank. The ultimate buyer of the Fox sports channels will have to pay in cash, he said.

Disney, which owns ESPN, plans to divest the channels as part of its agreement to buy the entertainment assets of 21st Century Fox Inc.

The sports channels could fetch about $20 billion in an auction, Bloomberg has reported. The networks hold TV rights to 44 professional basketball, baseball and hockey teams, including the Green Bay Packers and the Atlanta Braves.

The assets have attracted preliminary interest from media and technology companies including Sinclair, Google’s YouTube and Inc., as well as financial firms such as Blackstone Group LP, CVC Capital Partners and Apollo Global Management LLC, people with knowledge of the matter said in August.

Other Options

Ripley added that Sinclair is also “absolutely in the market” to buy more broadcast TV stations despite its failed purchase of Tribune Media Co. in August. Sinclair’s bid to become an even larger national broadcast TV powerhouse collapsed after regulators raised questions about the $3.9 billion purchase, leading Tribune to back out.

“We’re actively looking at opportunities as we speak,” Ripley said, adding that Sinclair is “preparing for bigger opportunities” like the possible sale of Cox Enterprises Inc.’s stations.

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