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Chime clashes with shareholder WPP over $71 mln motorsport deal

Reuters

* UK's Chime to move into motorsports with $71 mln deal

* WPP criticises deal, could sell 20 percent stake in Chime

By Keith Weir

LONDON, Oct 25 (Reuters) - British sports marketing group Chime Communications PLC is to boost its presence in motor racing by buying Just Marketing Inc (JMI) for $71 million, a deal that has cost it the support of its largest shareholder WPP.

WPP, the world's largest advertising group, could sell its 20 percent after criticising the takeover and suggesting that Chime should focus on growing its existing businesses.

Unlisted JMI, founded by American former professional driver Zak Brown, arranges sponsorship, hospitality and rights deals in Formula One, NASCAR and IndyCar motorsports.

"This acquisition will give us a strong foothold in the United States, one of the largest sports marketing markets in the world, and will accelerate Chime's strategy of becoming a global leader in sports marketing," Chime Chief Executive Christopher Satterthwaite said in a joint statement with JMI.

Chime said it planned to raise 25.6 million pounds ($41.4 million) by selling about 8.5 million new shares to financial institutions, chiefly existing shareholders, by Oct. 30 to help pay for the deal.

It is placing the shares at 300p each, a discount to Thursday's close of 323p, and they will represent about 9 per cent of the company. Chime shares were down 1.9 percent, or 6.25p, at 1000 GMT. The broader FTSE small caps index was up 0.2 percent.

WPP HITS OUT

WPP, which also owns about 20 percent of JMI, expressed its unease about the takeover.

"Our principal concern is about the quality of the JMI deal, going to shareowners yet again to finance it, and a failure to focus on organic growth as promised," WPP said in a statement.

"We are also considering what we should do with our investment," it added.

In its statement to the London Stock Exchange, Chime said that WPP had backed the takeover but wanted to raise its stake in Chime to 29.9 percent as part of the transaction, a move rejected by the Chime board.

"WPP has now stated that if Chime proceeds with the acquisition on its current terms, it is WPP's current intention to explore a sale of its stake in Chime," it added.

Set up by Brown in 1995, JMI had operating profit of $4.7 million on revenues of $40.8 million in 2012.

Chime has focused increasingly on sports marketing since selling off its public relations business last year.

Former Olympic track champion Sebastian Coe, one of the architects of London's successful 2012 Games, is chairman of its sports marketing arm after Chime bought his consultancy business a year ago.

Chime said it expected strong growth in operating income next year when the Winter Olympics are held in Russia, the soccer World Cup is staged in Brazil and Glasgow hosts the Commonwealth Games.

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