Exclusive: AEG auction starts; Anschutz seeks bids in $10 billion range

Billionaire Phil Anschutz has kicked off the auction of his Anschutz Entertainment Group, with an expectation that the sports and entertainment giant should draw bids in the $10 billion range, higher than previously believed, according to sources familiar with the situation.

The initial, 25-page AEG information memorandum that describes the business but has no financial information was expected to go to "dozens" of potential buyers on Monday, the sources said. The initial group of recipients is expected to include rich individuals, rivals, sovereign wealth funds, real estate firms, and private equity firms, they said.

Anschutz is likely to start signing non-disclosure agreements and send out the books with financial details by the end of the month, the sources said.

The list of potential bidders includes trade buyers such as Liberty Media Corp ; investment companies such as Guggenheim Partners LLC; private equity firms such as Thomas H. Lee Partners LP, Bain Capital LLC and Colony Capital LLC; and rich individuals such as Los Angeles biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, sources have previously said.

Bidders are likely to need to come up with bids in the "high single digit, low double digit" billion dollars to proceed to the next round, the sources said, signaling that Anschutz has a higher price expectation than previously believed.

Sources close to potential buyers had said last month that the company could fetch between $6 billion and $8 billion in a sale.

"The Anschutz Co has no comment on the sales process beyond its press release announcing the sales process," it said in a statement on Monday. As a private owner, the Denver-based billionaire has the final say in any deal.

Anschutz said last month that it was exploring a sale of AEG and had hired Blackstone Advisory Partners to advise it on the process.

AEG, which has around 25,000 employees, has developed more than 100 entertainment venues globally, in some of the world's largest cities such as Los Angeles, London, Berlin and Shanghai. These include the Staples Center in Los Angeles, The O2 Arena in London and the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai.

The company also owns sports assets that include the Los Angeles Galaxy Major League Soccer team, possibly best-known for its star David Beckham, and a stake in the National Basketball Association's Los Angeles Lakers.

The idea behind AEG broadly is to own the real estate and draw people to the venues through sporting events and live entertainment. Anschutz wants to keep the AEG platform in one piece because he believes the company's holdings are more valuable as a group than in individual pieces, the sources said.

The price expectations and Anschutz's insistence on keeping the platform and the management team in place, however, adds complexity to an eventual sale.

A buyer would need to write a large check for the company, including their own cash and bank financing, which could make it necessary for bidders to form consortiums.

There are no easy comparisons for potential buyers to draw on in valuing the company. What's more, Anschutz will need to get approvals from sports organizations such as the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association to be able to transfer ownership of sports teams.

A valuation analysis could eventually include a sum of the parts determination, the sources said. For example, one of the sources said, the Staples Center in Los Angeles alone could be worth around $1 billion.

Blackstone bankers are also planning to keep control of how bidding groups are formed, the sources said. The confidentiality agreement with potential buyers is expected to have a provision that will prevent parties from discussing joint bids.

The requirement is sometimes imposed by sellers in auctions to prevent bidders from forming groups as a way to undercut on price and possibly to help broker deals between bidders when the size of the asset is large.

Later on in the auction, possibly around the second round, the advisers also plan to launch a parallel process to seek approvals from the various sports leagues for the bidders, the sources said.

Blackstone bankers used a similar approach when they advised on the sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team earlier this year, which eventually sold for $2 billion to Guggenheim Baseball Management, a group that includes Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson and one-time Hollywood studio executive Peter Guber.

In the Dodgers deal Johnson was the "face" of the consortium, a preference among sports leagues that usually insist on an individual rather than an institution buying the franchises.

Anschutz is likely to look to pair up the bidders in a similar manner as well, the sources said.

Blackstone declined to comment.

(Reporting By Nadia Damouni and Paritosh Bansal; Editing by Martin Howell and Jim Marshall)