Amazon among bidders for Disney's 22 sports networks

NEW YORK • Amazon, furthering its aggressive push into live sports programming, is bidding for the regional sports networks that Disney must divest under the terms of its US$71 billion (S$97.5 billion) acquisition of Fox.

The e-commerce giant wants to buy all 22 networks on offer, CNBC reported on Tuesday, citing sources familiar with the matter.

Public equity firm Apollo Global Management, global investment body KKR & Co, private equity firm Blackstone Group, and broadcast conglomerates Sinclair and Tegna are also among the bidders, the business news channel said.

CNBC added that an unnamed sovereign wealth fund and Major League Baseball team, the New York Yankees, were also bidding for the Yes network, which shows their games as well as that of the Brooklyn Nets National Basketball Association team.

Sources had earlier told Reuters that the networks could be worth as much as US$20 billion. If Amazon clinches the deal, it would pay a higher price than the US$13.7 billion takeover of grocery store chain Whole Foods last year, which remains its record acquisition.

The world's largest online retailer already has rights to the National Football League and National Hockey League. And it is increasingly interested in adding live sports to its Prime Video streaming service and is gearing up to show live English Premier League (EPL) football matches.

In June, it smashed Sky and BT Sport's longstanding duopoly on EPL rights after sealing an undisclosed three-year deal to stream 20 matches online from next year, giving it a foothold in the world's most-watched sports league.

And its bid for Disney's sports assets underlines its ambition to take on traditional pay-TV broadcasters in one of their most reliable sources of revenue.

Atlantic Equities analyst James Cordwell said: "I've always viewed Amazon's video strategy as having three elements to it - Prime Instant Video, the Channels business and live ad-supported TV.

"The latter is the least built-out, but the regional sports networks would fit well in terms of establishing this part of the offering."

Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Robert Schiffman also felt that its balance sheet could easily support the cost to buy all of Disney's sports networks, adding: "With ample borrowing capacity and cash on hand, Amazon's ability to outpay other competitors for these assets should be easily attainable."

The second round of bids, which Fox is said to be keen on entering, is expected before the end of the year and due diligence begins next week.

While Amazon declined to comment, Disney, the Yankees and Blackstone did not respond to Reuters' request for comment.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 22, 2018, with the headline 'Amazon among bidders for Disney's 22 sports networks'. Print Edition | Subscribe