Anschutz could select preferred AEG buyers in few weeks: sources

Phil Anschutz may come up with a shortlist Of potential buyers for the Anschutz Entertainment Group within weeks, as negotiations continue over the value of the billionaire's sports and real estate empire, people familiar with the bidding told Reuters on Friday.

Colony Capital LLC, Guggenheim Partners LLC and Los Angeles biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong made second-round bids in February for AEG and remain in discussions about a potential deal, the people said.

The bidders have all submitted non-binding offers of under $7 billion for AEG's assets, including sports teams, arenas and a music touring business. Colony Capital would bid along with Qatar's sovereign wealth fund.

The bidders and AEG are about $1 billion apart on price, according to one of the people, although a disparity is not unusual with companies that own sports teams, which are difficult to value.

Anschutz's adviser, Blackstone Group LP , is looking for a price in the high single-digit to low double-digit billions, the people said.

The current bidders could yet team up to increase the size of their bids, though Anschutz and his advisers must approve any change in ownership groups, the people added. No decision has been made on how an ownership group would be structured, that person said.

Anschutz, whose company controls the National Hockey League's L.A. Kings and two Major League Soccer teams, would be required to go to U.S. sports leagues for approval once preferred bidding groups are identified.

It is possible that more than one party could be presented to the leagues for approval, one of the people said.

The leagues will vet potential buyer groups for legal or other issues that would make individuals unfit to own a team under its rules, and would also assess a buyer's financing, according to Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based sports consultancy SportsCorp.

"It's hard to see bidders like this not being approved, but it can happen," said Ganis.

The bidders likely would not need approval from the National Basketball Association to take over AEG's minority stake in the Los Angeles Lakers, Ganis added.

AEG has also developed more than 100 entertainment venues globally, in some of the world's largest cities from Los Angeles and London to Berlin and Shanghai. These include the Staples Center in Los Angeles, The O2 Arena in London and the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai.

AEG generates $350 million a year in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, according to one person who has seen the private company's financials. The person puts its value under $7 billion based on multiples being used by the bidders.

The company has also won Los Angeles city government approval to build a $1.2 billion stadium that includes $314.6 million in construction bonds, backed by taxes and other revenue from the project. Stadium construction is dependent on AEG's ability to convince the National Football League to relocate a team.

"We are not going to comment either on the identities of bidding parties or values being proposed by bidders during the sales process," said Robert Siegfried, a spokesman for Anschutz. He declined to elaborate.

The NHL and MLS declined to comment on their vetting process or potential bidders.

(Reporting by Ron Grover in Los Angeles, additional reporting by Nadia Damouni; Edited by Edwin Chan and Lisa Shumaker)