Disney Agrees to Divest 22 Regional Sports Networks

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The Department of Justice has approved The Walt Disney Company’s (DIS) $71.3 billion ($38/share, increased bid from $52.4 billion, includes +/- 50% in cash) acquisition of 21st Century Fox (FOXA) television and film assets, after reaching a settlement with DIS that calls for the company to divest FOXA’s 22 regional sports networks. U.S. A.G. (Anti-Trust Division) Makan Delrahim, concerned DIS’ control of the RSNs would create a potential monopoly, said that the settlement ensures “sports programming competition is preserved in the local markets where Disney and Fox compete for cable and satellite distribution.” The settlement, which requires DIS to divest the RSNs within 90 days of closing, requires approval from a judge; but that is a formality. DISintends on pursuing a 3rd party buyer for the RSNs, as opposed to submitting a new offer; FOXA is not thought to be interested in retaining the assets.

Howie Long-Short: DOJ approval gives DIS an advantage over Comcast (CMCSA) in the competition for the Murdoch empire, just two weeks after Comcast submitted an all-cash bid worth $65 billion ($35/share). While the approval alone won’t win DIS the assets (Comcast is expected to submit a counter offer), it won’t hurt considering it’s been thought the FOXA board has long preferred to sell the assets to DIS in the belief the Comcast bid is bound to face anti-trust concerns. That’s debatable. CMCSA would also divest the RSNs and FOXA’s stake in Hulu is really the only asset that might draw anti-trust concerns; and that doesn’t appear to be a major hurdle. It’s been thought FOXA assets could draw upwards of $43/share.

It should be noted that if the DIS deal goes through as is, FOXA shareholders would own 19% of the joint company. FOXA shares are up +11% (to $49.79) since DIS submitted their latest offer on June 20thDIS hasn’t fared as well, the stock is down -1.25% (to $104.77) over that same period.

Fan Marino: While the Yankees are likely to repurchase YES Network, that still leaves 21 RSNs and a lot of regional sports broadcast rights for taking. Sure, it’s possible that FAANG will pursue exclusive broadcast rights, I would bet on an established linear player making a play to acquire the 5th most important channel on a subscriber’s cable package. CBS (think: CBS Sports HQ), Turner Sports (T, B/R Live) and Discovery Communications (DISCA, which has made a significant push for rights in Europe) are all possible landing spots.

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Author: John Wall Street

At the intersection of sports & finance.

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