Chinese companies buy control of sports rights firm MP & Silva

Reuters

* Everbright Securities, Beijing Baofeng buy 65 percent stake

* Deal values MP & Silva at $1 bln - sources

* Company founders to keep important roles (Adds comment from CEO, advisers)

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By Elvira Pollina and Adam Jourdan

MILAN/SHANGHAI, May 24 (Reuters) - Two Chinese companies have bought a majority stake in Italian-owned sports media rights firm MP & Silva (MPS) in the latest of a series of global sports-related deals by investors from China.

In a statement on Tuesday, MPS said that financial services group Everbright Securities and internet entertainment company Beijing Baofeng Technology had taken a 65 percent stake in the business through an investment vehicle.

It gave no further financial details.

"It has been a competitive sales process with lots of interest from international companies and private equity funds," MPS Chief Executive Marco Auletta told Reuters.

"Everbright and Baofeng have emerged as the right partners to support our international growth and help us expand in adjacent fields such as virtual reality, where Baofeng is a key player in China."

Auletta said the management team has retained shares in the business and will work closely with the new stakeholders to tap Asian markets.

A source had earlier told Reuters that Everbright and Baofeng were to take a stake of about 60 percent in MPS, valuing the company at a little more than $1 billion. A second source confirmed the valuation.

UBS advised MP & Silva on the deal while China International Capital Corporation (CICC) and online deals platform DealGlobe worked with Everbright and Baofeng.

Headquartered in London and Singapore with an annual turnover of $600 million, MPS distributes media rights for a series of sports federations and clubs, including Italy's top-flight Serie A soccer league.

The deal is expected to give MPS, founded in 2004, additional firepower to expand internationally, especially in the rapidly growing Chinese market.

"We are confident that, thanks to this partnership, MP & Silva will be able to strengthen its leadership position in the market and introduce new ground-breaking innovations," Baofeng CEO Larry Feng said.

Baofeng plans to develop a sports channel and a series of sports apps.

CHINA BUYS INTO SPORT

The main MPS shareholders, Italian businessmen Andrea Radrizzani and Riccardo Silva, owned 80 percent of the company. Carlo Pozzali is the third founding partner and was a minority shareholder in the business.

MPS said that its other shareholders, with a combined 35 percent holding, would maintain a significant role in the group.

The investment adds to China's rapidly expanding portfolio of global sports assets, with soccer a particular focus.

Property group Dalian Wanda, which last year bought a 20 percent stake in Champions' League finalists Atletico Madrid, has also acquired Swiss sports-marketing company Infront.

President Xi Jinping, an avid soccer fan, has made it a goal for the country to win the World Cup and a recent string of deals is raising China's profile in the game.

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi opened exclusive talks with a group of Chinese investors this month over the potential sale of a majority stake in soccer club AC Milan and last week a Chinese magnate agreed to buy English soccer club Aston Villa.

Chinese groups have also made a series of investments in German technology businesses.

(Additional reporting by Pamela Barbaglia in London, Writing by Stephen Jewkes; Editing by Keith Weir and David Goodman)

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