The father-and-son duo who have built Matchroom Sport into a global sports promotion empire are plotting a deal that will cement their status among Britain’s super-rich.
Sky News can reveal that Barry and Eddie Hearn are in detailed talks with at least three private equity firms about the sale of a substantial minority stake in Matchroom, which was established 40 years ago.
KKR, CVC Capital Partners and Searchlight Capital are all said to be keen to partner with Matchroom by securing a deal, with a decision about a preferred bidder expected in the coming weeks.
Sources said the talks were focused on a transaction that could value Essex-based Matchroom at somewhere between £600m and £700m, although the figure could ultimately fall outside that range.
The size of the stake being sold by the Hearns, and the structure of a deal, have also yet to be finalised, but if they proceed with the disposal of a 25% interest at the upper end of the likely range, it would hand them a £175m windfall.
The duo are said to have no intention of relinquishing control of Matchroom, however, which they have built into a powerhouse in the world of boxing and which also has a substantial presence in sports such as darts and snooker.
Established in its current guise in 1982, Matchroom dominated the management and promotion of snooker during its heyday, with huge television audiences tuning in to watch stars such as Steve Davis and Jimmy ‘Whirlwind’ White.
Over the next decade, it branched out into other sports, most notably boxing, and was responsible for staging the landmark fight between Frank Bruno and Joe Bugner at Tottenham Hotspur’s White Hart Lane ground in 1987.
Since then, it has become one of the most important commercial players in the boxing world, promoting fighters including Anthony Joshua, Katie Taylor and Josh Warrington.
Last year, it struck a global deal with the sports streaming platform DAZN, adding to a reported $1bn tie-up in 2018 that saw DAZN agree to show Matchroom’s fights in the US.
Matchroom continues to have an association with Sky – the immediate parent of Sky News – that is now focused on the broadcaster’s coverage of the PDC’s World Darts Championship held annually at London’s Alexandra Palace.
The Hearns’ firm also has a presence, albeit less internationally prominent, in sports including basketball, fishing, gymnastics, netball, pool and tenpin bowling.
Striking a deal to sell a stake in their empire would be lucrative for the Hearns, but it would also underline the continuing boom in global sports-related assets even as dealmaking across much of the rest of the economy dries up amid fears of a recession.
In recent months, a group led by the LA Dodgers part-owner Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital have struck a record-breaking deal to buy Chelsea Football Club from the sanctioned oligarch, Roman Abramovich, for a record-breaking sum.
AC Milan, the newly crowned Serie A champions, have also changed hands for more than Euros1bn – a record for a club in one of the main continental European leagues.
Earlier this month, the TV and streaming rights to Indian Premier League cricket were bought for more than $6bn in deals involving global media giants such as Disney.
The enormous sums continuing to be paid for sports rights reflect the ongoing international commercial appeal of elite sports during a period when other genres have struggled to achieve meaningful growth, particularly among younger consumers.
Private equity firms have seized on the potential to acquire sports and related media assets to create new commercial formats which are more readily embraced by both fans and broadcasters.
CVC has been the most prolific example of this, snapping up stakes in leagues and teams in rugby union, cricket and volleyball.
It is also exploring a deal to unify the commercial rights to men’s and women’s tennis, and is likely to be a contender in an impending auction of commercial rights to German football’s top flight, the Bundesliga.
The firm’s investment in Formula One motor racing, which it exited in 2016 through the sale of its remaining stake to Liberty Media Corporation, is often referred to as one of the most lucrative in the history of private equity.
Silver Lake, the American buyout firm, is also among those which have begun to invest heavily in the sports arena, including through a recently confirmed deal to buy a share in the commercial rights to the New Zealand All Blacks.
Searchlight, another of Matchroom’s suitors, has a track record of backing sizeable media companies, including through a recently announced deal for Gato Investments, one of its portfolio companies, to acquire Hemisphere Media Group, which targets Hispanic and Latin American viewers in the US.
Meanwhile, a KKR-led consortium has snapped up the owner of the bicycle-making brand Raleigh, with KKR also reported to be among those interested in the Bundesliga deal.
Matchroom declined to comment on the talks with private equity firms, while KKR, CVC and Searchlight also declined to comment.
This weekend, the identity of any other parties in discussions with the Hearns was unclear.