Walt Disney Co. (DIS.N) is aiming to reach agreements for the sale of the 22 regional sports networks it is acquiring from 21st Century Fox Inc. (FOXA.O) by the end of February, according to people familiar with the sale process.
The company fielded first-round of bids in November from five to 10 suitors, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. The company hopes to weed out lowball offers, weigh a second round of bids and pick winners by the end of February, they said.
Some big media companies have already made it clear they’re not interested in bidding, including Comcast Corp., Discovery Inc. and Fox itself. Some analysts have put a value of US$20 billion to US$22 billion on the entire package, although Disney may have trouble reaching those numbers.
But at the same time, the New York Yankees are moving forward to acquire the 80 per cent they don’t already own of the YES Network, the most-valuable channel in the group because it carries the Yankees and the Brooklyn Nets. The team is lining up partners and financing from Amazon.com Inc. and investment firms, people familiar with the situation said in November.
A sale of the YES network, which could go for more than US$5 billion, might make it easier for Disney to sell the remaining channels because the cost would be lower. Interested parties in the rest of the assets include local-TV giant Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.
Disney, which is expected to complete its US$71 billion acquisition of Fox’s entertainment assets in the first half of this year, agreed to sell the sports networks in a deal with the U.S. Justice Department, which was concerned that the owner of ESPN and other sports channels would dominate the market.
Disney’s investment bankers, Allen & Co. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., have been busy meeting with buyers, sharing more extensive financial details than the parties got in the first round. Potential buyers, which include private equity firms, media companies and other parties, have also met with Fox executives to discuss the businesses.
While Disney’s bankers have suggested spinning off the networks to shareholders, the company is committed to selling them, the people with knowledge of the matter said. A spinoff would require approval from the Justice Department, but the agency is likely to give the green light.