TV sport on the agenda for PE firms

As Benchmark Europe completes the acquisition of a 50 percent stake in a TV network that shows North American sports in Europe, reports are emerging of private equity interest in UK football TV rights.

The European arm of global venture capital firm Benchmark Capital has agreed to acquire a 50 percent stake in North American Sports Network (NASN) for an undisclosed sum.

NASN is a UK-based European television channel that broadcasts US sporting events including baseball, basketball, American football and Nascar racing outside the US.

The deal is being put together as a shareholder restructuring, whereby existing 30 percent stakeholder, Irish TV production group Setanta Sports, will acquire the remaining 70 percent from US venture capital firm Vulcan European Media.

Setanta will then sell down a 50 percent stake in the company to Benchmark Europe. NASN has been valued by industry analysts at approximately $50 million. The transaction is subject to approval by the Irish Competition Authority.

Dublin-based Setanta, which competes with TF1 subsidiary Eurosport, already holds the TV rights to the Scottish Premier League.

According to a report from Dow Jones, a number of UK-based private equity firms are already exploring bidding options for the television rights to the UK’s Premier League.

Premier League TV rights go up for grabs in 2007

Without citing sources, the report anticipates that EU regulators will force the Premier League to open the TV rights to a multiple-bidder auction, when they next come up for renewal in 2007.

The current owner of the TV rights is Rupert Murdoch’s Sky channel, part of the British Sky Broadcasting Group. BskyB won the 2003 tender outright with a bid of £1.02 billion.

However EU competition authorities have warned UK football body the Premier League that the next package of rights covering the 2007 – 2010 seasons should not be awarded to a single bidder.