Commenting on the value of broadcasting rights, Rupert Murdoch, one of the most powerful media moguls in the world, once said: “Sport absolutely overpowers film and everything else in the entertainment genre, and football, of all sports, is number one.”
Now it seems Chinese investors are keen to take him at his word. According to the Financial Times, the Chinese property and entertainment conglomerate, Wanda, wants to take over Infront Sports & Media, a Swiss-based company that handles the media and marketing rights for international sports. And the Chinese company might not be alone in its interest.
For three years, Infront has belonged to Bridgepoint, a private equity company, but they have been looking for a buyer since September. Neither Bridgepoint nor Infront are commenting on the ongoing discussions, but sources close to the companies say they are in the midst of the sales process.
Infront was founded in 2002 by the entrepreneur Nicole Junkermann and the former owner of Adidas, Robert Louis-Dreyfus, who passed away in 2009. Before the €550 million, or $685.4 million, takeover by Bridgepoint in 2011, the coffee heir Andreas Jacobs gained a majority of shares. Infront generated sales of around €600 million in 2013; it does not publish figures on earnings.
The company is perhaps best known for its president and chief executive, Philippe Blatter, the nephew of the controversial Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, president of FIFA, soccer’s international governing body.
This connection left Infront well placed to market the TV rights to major FIFA tournaments. It used to have the rights to all of FIFA’s World Cups, but in 2006 this deal was watered down. In 2011, FIFA gave Infront a mandate to sell the TV rights in the Asian market for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
In Germany, Infront markets the qualifying or knock-out rounds of the national soccer team, as well as international friendlies and the German Football Association’s DFB Cup. It also works with 13 of the 18 top flight Bundesliga clubs, such as SV Schalke 04 and Werder Bremen.