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Wanda frontrunner for Infront Media deal

By Financial Times 22 Dec 2014

Dalian Wanda has emerged as the frontrunner in the auction for Infront Media, the Swiss sports marketing company run by the nephew of embattled Fifa president Sepp Blatter, according to people familiar with the matter.

Wanda, the Dalian-based property conglomerate, is nearing a deal that would see it pay roughly €1bn, one of these people said, in the latest sign of the Chinese company’s desire to expand beyond commercial real estate and into entertainment.

A deal could be announced within the next few weeks, this person added, as Infront’s private equity owners, Bridgepoint, look to sell the asset they acquired for €550m including debt in 2011. Private equity bidders including US-based Providence were also said to have been involved in the auction. Wanda, Bridgepoint and Providence declined to comment.

Wanda chairman Wang Jianlin, China’s second-richest man, has made clear his ambition to move deeper into the entertainment business. Earlier this month he announced that he was bidding for a controlling stake in US film studio Lions Gate Entertainment, and seeking to invest in US movie producer Metro Goldwyn Meyer.

Wanda, which also owns US movie chain AMC Theatres, raised $3.7bn this week in what was the largest initial public offering in Hong Kong this year.

Infront, which is based in Zug, is run by Philippe Blatter, who was previously at McKinsey and has been Infront’s chief executive since 2006.

The company specialises in distributing media rights for sports broadcasting, including the Asian distribution rights for the 2010 and 2014 Fifa World Cup tournaments.

Because of the family connection between Sepp and Philippe Blatter, the company has for years had to shrug off suspicion about its relationship with Fifa.

In front was awarded the exclusive sales rights to broadcast packages in 26 territories in Asia for its events in 2015-22, including the two World Cups in that period.

People close to the auction previously told the FT that buyers have raised questions over the impact of investigations into Fifa’s selection of Russia and Qatar as the next two locations for the World Cup. They are concerned that if the Fifa’s leadership changes, Infront may lose some of its World Cup-related rights.

The company also distributes the media rights for China’s professional basketball league, which will have likely been attractive to Wanda.

Last year, Wanda paid more than £300m for Dorset luxury yachtmaker Sunseeker.

Chinese investors have ramped up their investments in the region in the aftermath of the eurozone debt crisis.

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