Anschutz puts sports and entertainment empire up for sale

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NEW YORK/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – U.S. conglomerate Anschutz Co said on Tuesday it wants to sell its sports and entertainment unit, whose assets range from teams like the Los Angeles Kings hockey franchise to concert venues such as London’s famous O2 arena — in a potential multi-billion dollar sale.

Such a deal may be one of the biggest for Anschutz’s owner and fabled dealmaker Denver billionaire Phillip Anschutz, and could draw the interest of the world’s leading media and entertainment companies.

Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) owns some 100 entertainment venues globally, the L.A. Galaxy soccer team and a stake in the L.A. Lakers basketball team in addition to the L.A. Kings. A sale could fetch several billions of dollars, said one person with has done business with the company.

It is not clear, however, if Anschutz will decide to sell all or part of its holdings.

Potential buyers could include John Malone’s Liberty Media Corp and News Corp, which is splitting its publishing and entertainment assets later this year, said a separate source, a financial executive who has been briefed on the company’s status but is not part of the deal.

Neither company has made a formal bid, however.

News Corp declined to comment while representatives from Liberty Media were not immediately available for comment.

A sale to Malone’s Liberty Media would have regulatory hurdles. Liberty owns a 21 percent stake in Live Nation Entertainment, which is the nation’s biggest show promoter while AEG’s concert division, AEG Live is the second-largest.

Anschutz Co has retained Blackstone Advisory Partners as its financial advisor to assist in the sale process.

This is not the first time that Anschutz has explored a sale of some or all of AEG. In 2008, IAC’s Ticketmaster and Cablevision Systems Corp came close to acquiring 49 percent of the AEG Live concert division for roughly $400 million. But those talks eventually broke down and Ticketmaster went on to merge with Live Nation.

Anschutz, 72, bought out his father’s drilling company in 1961 and expanded into stocks, real estate and railroads.

A conservative Christian who occasionally teaches Sunday School classes, he is ranked by Forbes as the 34th richest person in the U.S. with a net worth valued at $7 billion as of October 2010.

One of his earliest deals came in 1968 when one of his Wyoming wells caught fire. Anschutz struck a deal with Universal Pictures to allow them to film his burning oil well for $100,000 and use it for a film the studio was making about famed fire fighter Red Adair.

For more than a decade he has concentrated on building his entertainment holdings and also co-founded Major League Soccer.

“This is an appropriate time to transition AEG to a new qualified owner. This process represents a unique opportunity to maximize value for all concerned,” said Cannon Harvey, president of Anschutz Co, in a statement.

AEG has transformed the once largely abandoned downtown Los Angeles into a bustling entertainment destination, hosting the Staples Center, a twenty-thousand-seat arena, and the vibrant L.A. Live promenade, which are almost entirely owned by AEG.

AEG is also planning a $1.2 billion football stadium that would house a NFL team that would move from another city.

The company’s AEG Live unit was the promoter behind the “This Is It” comeback tour that Michael Jackson was about to embark on before he died. It is still embroiled in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Katherine Jackson, the singer’s mother, in which she accuses the company of being responsible for medical decisions made by Jackson’s doctor, Conrad Murray, that caused his death.

AEG Live last week dropped a separate lawsuit it filed seeking a $17.5 million insurance claim payment from Lloyds of London to reimburse upfront costs they incurred to stage the “This Is It” tour.

(Additional reporting by Paritosh Bansal in New York and Sue Zeidler in Los Angeles- Editing by Mary Milliken and Edwina Gibbs)

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