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Will AEG’s Scale Thwart its Sale?

Buyers could prefer behemoth in smaller pieces

Negotiations are heating up for trophy asset AEG, but it may take splitting up the company to facilitate a sale.

Just how potential buyers could afford a price tag estimated around $6 billion was called into question as soon as the global sports and entertainment unit of Anschutz Corp. went on the block last year. But with at least one bidder having balked, the specter has been raised that AEG could be forced to break apart its businesses — which include concert promotions, event production and venue operations — into more easily digestible parts.

On the other hand, as financial markets show strong signs of recovering from the 2008 financial crisis, it could be easier for AEG to be acquired in its entirety. The company has attracted suitors with deep pockets: Guggenheim Partners, the private equity firm that bought the Dodgers last year for more than $2 billion, was among the strongest candidates sniffing around AEG.

But Guggenheim has since dropped out of the race, according to sources.

Bloomberg News reported Thursday that Tom Barrack’s realty group Colony Capital — a partial owner of Miramax — was a frontrunner in the bidding process.

“We are not going to comment on the identities of bidding parties or values being proposed by bidders during the sale process,” said an Anschutz Corp. rep. “We are gratified by all of the interest being shown in AEG, and at the conclusion of the process, we will make the appropriate announcement.”

Owned by billionaire Philip Anschutz, the company has previously stated it would seek to sell as a single platform, and has no intention of splitting its businesses. But insiders say AEG could attract new investors by dividing its sports, marquee venues and live-event production businesses.

The company owns or holds stakes in the Los Angles Kings and Lakers, and Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy and Houston Dynamo. Its marquee venues include L.A. Live and the Staples Center in Los Angeles and London’s O2 arena, and its AEG Live arm operates extensive touring, festival and exhibition operations.

The possibility also remains that a single buyer could swallow AEG with the intent to break the company into pieces for sale after acquisition.

Looser credit markets and more access to capital have encouraged a number of hefty transactions over the past year. Guggenheim’s purchase of the Dodgers, for example, showed that there was appetite and support for the right kind of trophy asset.

While there aren’t many recent examples of media acquisitions on the scale of AEG, some experts are confident the market is ripe to support a transaction of such a size.

“In the past several years, we’ve seen a number of even the larger private equity funds focus more on middle-market acquisitions than they had before the financial crisis,” said Ari Lanin, co-chair of Gibson Dunn’s private equity practices group. “But access to cheap debt, favorable covenant packages and a significant amount of capital sitting on the sidelines seem to finally be fostering an increased focus on multibillion dollar mega-dealmaking.”

Still, capital has not flooded back into the market on the scale of the glut of money seen in the mid-2000s, and investors are arguably more risk-averse. But many financial observers point out that hedge fund and private equity money has begun to creep back into the entertainment industry. 20th Century Fox, for instance, completed the first studio slate funding deal in years in January, when it closed a deal for $400 million in new equity from an investor group led by former Dune Capital Management topper Chip Seelig.

AEG’s price tag could reach $8 billion, according to some estimates. That would put a premium on the synergy among the company’s many businesses, which have been credited with effectively integrating their operations. Also part of Anschutz’s empire is event production business AEG Live and a robust ticketing unit, which has made a number of recent strategic acquisitions.

(Jill Goldsmith contributed to this report)

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